Ozark Junior High School officials unveiled a renovated space Friday that in part joins older and previously separated campus buildings.
There are new safety features, collaborative work spaces and a new cafeteria. The building boasts updated elective, core subject and fine art classrooms. The improvements follow a district-wide $20 million bond passed in April 2015, according to a statement from the school. The junior high upgrades accounted for $12.3 million.
A ribbon cutting was held Friday by the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, followed by building tours.
Ozark Superintendent Dr. Kevin Patterson hopes the upgraded space will better prepare students following graduation.
“And we’ve connected (these wings) into what we call ‘flexible learning spaces,’” Patterson said. “And so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to work with our students so that they’re individually responsible for their education.”
These “flex spaces” are open areas throughout the renovated building that can be used by students individually or in a group setting. Upon entering the building, circular bookshelves lined with art and books are scattered throughout the main lobby. The area doubles as a library and hallway, with a library desk and spaces for students to read.
Much of the building has similar community or “flex” zones. Near the science classrooms, parts of the dividing walls in the hallways are cut out and ledges have been inserted to allow students to use even hallway space as seating areas and to work with their peers.
Smaller study rooms were built across many of the classrooms and boast whiteboard walls, tables and beanbags. There are also alcoves large enough for one or two students to work within sight of a teacher’s classroom.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Craig Carson said the concept allows productivity in these areas while still serving as a community space. As the students work amongst the bookshelves, their peers roam nearby.
“There are just nooks and crannies for learning to go on everywhere — and we love that,” Carson said. “If you walk down hallways you’ll see spaces for students to have their laptops and they have whiteboards. They can put what they’re doing on their laptops up on the TV above them. So it gives them lots of opportunities for 21st century learning.”
Carson described 21st century learning as a process that is “collaborative, creative” and full of teamwork. He hopes this space will encourage students to work together and prepare themselves for their future careers.
Additionally, school officials stressed the importance of the school’s new safety features.
“We’ve added a bunch of safety features, which is huge for our community,” Carson said. “Our community wanted us to have a safe-room. Kids always had to go outside to go from class to class so they were in the weather and they weren’t behind fences. So in the world of safety, now they’re all under one big roof.”
Casey Owens, director of communications for Ozark R-VI School District, said the music program throughout Ozark schools is large and important to the community. With the new renovations, the junior high now has a large choral rehearsal room with a piano and risers, a band and orchestra rehearsal room that doubles as a space for theater performances, a large band hall with instrument storage and several practice rooms.
The special education classrooms were also updated, and now hold a space for students to learn practical skills — a space for laundry, a kitchen and workout gear in the corner.
Another room across the hall holds thousands of small LED lights in the ceiling imitating stars, couches for relaxation and room for a therapy animal. Patterson said this area is used for students who may be experiencing distress, a mental health disorder or presenting behavioral challenges.
Patterson added, “What we hope is — whether it’s new students or students who have been here — is that we’re preparing them for their future. Ozark is a wonderful community, they’re very supportive, and their expectations are high. We want to meet the expectations of our community.”