Opening a brand-new school is a bit like waking up on Christmas: the look of excitement and awe can be seen on administrators, teachers, parents and students' faces.
If it were any other year, that'd be the case for Bakersfield City School District's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Rather than opening its doors to hundreds in a few weeks, it'll take some time before everyone can enjoy the goodies inside.
Who would have thought the district's first new campus since 2015 would open during a pandemic and when students are participating in distance learning? Definitely not Principal Cheryl Stamper, who's spent more than 20 years in the district as a teacher, academic coach and vice principal.
"I think a lot of good will come from it, but it’s going to cause some stress along the way," she said. "But we’ll just have to respond. We’ll just have to figure it out."
Most construction is set to be completed by the first day of school, Aug. 12. About 650 to 700 prekindergarten through sixth-grade students will be enrolled, but at least for the first quarter they won't get a chance to explore and enjoy all the science, technology, engineering, arts and math academy it has to offer.
The BCSD will utilize distance learning for at least the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year.
Many buildings on the MLK campus, when it's safe to do so, will be able to host community events, including the Learning Commons building. Aside from holding various meetings, the building will also house the school's library, and the meeting room will allow students to utilize Ozobots, for example — small, spherelike robots that help students learn coding.
"We want to use as much technology wherever we can," Stamper said.
The Event Center building, equipped with a stage, will be for assemblies, performances and other events. Students will also eat lunch there and the kitchen, student serving line and staff lounge are also housed inside.
A large music room is adjacent to the stage, making it easier to lug instruments to and from each space.
Inside classrooms, flexible tables will fit a class's needs, and students have a variety of seats to choose from. Smart TVs will allow teachers to broadcast lessons, and students can write on them.
Prekindergartners to kindergartners, first- through third-graders and fourth- through sixth-graders will each have their own designated areas and playgrounds on campus.
The hub of STEAM learning will take place in labs that also have several TV monitors placed along walls and opportunities for collaboration. In the intermediate lab, which has high tables and chairs for older students, Stamper envisions students doing a variety of activities: project work, experiments, creating videos and even outdoor lab work.
"The big push is for students to be involved in creating and doing their own learning versus just sitting there and being receptive," Stamper said. "We want them to be experimenting and creating and thinking things themselves."
Having a brand-new campus in southeast Bakersfield — where there's little revitalization being done and high unemployment rates — will change the trajectory for young children's lives, said Arleana Waller, founder of the MLK CommUNITY Initiative. Students who maybe wouldn't be exposed to several STEAM areas now can envision a vast future for themselves.
"Having an opportunity to start impacting lives at a young age in an environment that will mirror what the future will look like, it’s phenomenal," Waller said. "I think it’s going to put them on a pathway to think in a way they never thought before."
Christina Laster, education chair for the MLK CommUNITY Initiative, said a lot of good can be done, but only if parents and community stakeholders have their voices heard. The school's educators are also reflective of the population they serve, which is mainly Black and Hispanic.
"When you have a new school, you have the opportunity to build that in and be known for that, especially with its namesake," Laster said. "It’s a great opportunity to start aesthetically well and start off building a culture and climate conducive of what the community’s values are ... and that helps students in turn thrive more."
Both believe a brand-new school in the area will perhaps offer hope that students can "break cyclical and generational patterns" of inequality and that "the community is starting to shift into something better," Laster said.
Though it'll take some time before students explore campus themselves, the BCSD is working to schedule parent and student orientation sessions, adhering to all required guidance, around the start of school.
"This still requires discussions and negotiations with our employee associations, but we believe it is important to provide an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting and overview of this year’s instructional program prior to the start of the school year," said Tabatha Mills, district spokeswoman.