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Gussner school takes out pod area in favor of classroom walls

A product of the '70s, until this school year, classrooms in the pod area at Gussner Elementary were separated with nothing more than bookshelves and curtains. Teachers couldn't even close a door to keep noise out, because the classrooms didn't h...

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John M. Steiner / The Sun Gussner Elementary School teachers Todd Roth, from left, Michelle Kukowski and Anita Frey stand in a classroom which used to be part of the pod space at the school. Jamestown Public Schools spent about $500,000 in stimulus money to take the classrooms from open spaces separated with curtains and bookshelves to rooms with four walls, doors and bigger windows.

A product of the '70s, until this school year, classrooms in the pod area at Gussner Elementary were separated with nothing more than bookshelves and curtains. Teachers couldn't even close a door to keep noise out, because the classrooms didn't have any.

But with about $500,000 in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Jamestown Public Schools tore down the curtains and built walls instead.

Jamestown Public Schools spent about $1 million total in stimulus money on building projects. Other projects include windows and plumbing at Jamestown Middle School, windows and walls at Roosevelt Elementary and replacement of the roof and east entrance at Washington Elementary as well as and making its library handicap accessible.

"The kids are more on task, so much more on task," said Mike Rudy, fifth-grade teacher at Gussner. Rudy has taught in the pod area at Gussner for about 30 years.

The space was built in 1971 when the philosophy in education was to allow for an open learning environment for upper elementary-aged students, said Gussner Principal Pete Carvell. The goal was to give students shared space and allow students to work together.

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What resulted were noisier spaces, making it difficult for students to focus.

"It took a very well-managed classroom to be successful," he said.

Sometimes the teachers took advantage of the open space and all six classrooms in the pod shared the area for a presentation or a movie. Teachers scheduled events like that about three or four times a year, Rudy said.

But the benefits of four walls outweigh any benefits from the old space, Rudy said.

One aspect he appreciates is the technological one.

When his wall was a bookshelf, Rudy didn't have as much space for outlets. He had three computers in his classroom last year and this year, he has six.

In addition to outlets, the new rooms have more space for bulletin boards, built-in mailboxes, a bigger window and a water fountain in every classroom.

What it has less of is storage space. The former rooms had closets which were removed with the remodel.

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"Hey, I would rather lose storage and have a better learning environment for my students," said Michelle Kukowski, fifth-grade teacher at Gussner. Kukowski has taught in the pod space at Gussner for about five years.

The new rooms also have air conditioning, which the pod area didn't have until this year. In previous years, teachers used fans which moved air but also blew papers and materials in different directions. Teachers also tried to reduce heat by leaving the lights off. That too, caused distractions. Plus, children were usually tired and worn out by the end of the day.

Now, the climate control and noise-level reduction are contributing to a better atmosphere for educators to teach, teachers agreed.

"It's a much more friendly learning environment," said fourth-grade teacher Todd Roth.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at kryan@jamestownsun.com

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