East Lake Elementary ready for first day of school

New building provides new opportunities for creating community

Construction on East Lake Elementary wraps up as the first day of school approaches on Sept. 5. The building is designed to promote learning through collaboration, and features several shared spaces for students to work in community with one another. Photo by Amy Mihelich

Some students who attended Diamond Path, Highland, Parkview, Rosemount and Shannon Park elementary schools this spring will come together this fall to form a new community. East Lake Elementary, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District’s newest elementary school, will begin classes on Sept. 5.

At press time, 535 students were enrolled. There are five sections of kindergarten, four sections of first, second, and third grade, three sections of fourth grade, and two sections of fifth grade.

Principal Miles Haugen said East Lake Elementary will use 21st century learning strategies. Teachers will be able to take full advantage of resources such as smart boards and computer labs. The school is participating in a 1:1 technology beta program initiated by District 196. The students in one fifth-grade classroom will receive iPads that they can use in class and take home with them in the evenings.

The school will also have a full classroom set of Chromebooks, which Haugen said will be used by the other fifth-grade class as part of the school’s dedication to making the year special for their oldest students.

Haugen said he wants to make sure that the school goes out of its way to make the year unique for the fifth-graders who will only be spending one year in the building.

“The kids coming into fifth grade here are choosing to leave a school that they’ve maybe been at for five years, so we want to make sure it is a special year for them,” he said.

Haugen said that the school will also focus on community and collaboration as essential learning strategies. The classrooms for each grade level are clustered together around a common room – a configuration Haugen calls a “neighborhood.” Students will have ample space to work on group projects inside of their own classroom or in shared spaces.

“It’s all about helping kids to learn to work collaboratively, to work together. They’ll be able to do that in the neighborhoods,” he said. “This building was designed, I believe, with the understanding that the collaborative is really what it is all about.”

Common spaces such as the media center provide opportunities for students to build community through learning at East Lake Elementary. Photo by Amy Mihelich

 

The first unit that all students will study is about community, Haugen said. Students will talk about what it means to be a community of learners, and students will be able to collaborate with each other throughout the work.

“You’ll see a lot of discussion in the first few weeks about how we can come together as a community,” he said. “It’s really no different than any other building. The first week is all about setting the expectations for the school to run efficiently. We are coming alongside each other and we are going to help each other learn.”

The spirit of community has been a theme of the summer, as teachers, parents, secretaries, clerks, custodians and construction workers have worked together to build and shape the school. Over the summer, Haugen put together a Building Leadership Team. They met three times to define the theme, goal and vision for East Lake Elementary.

“We talked about having a common purpose and a common understanding as we walk through the halls, as we go into the lunchroom, as we have recess, as we greet fellow students in the hallway – and it comes down to respect,” he said.

Haugen said he is excited about creating a unique culture of community at East Lake. In addition to the neighborhoods, the students will also spend time working together in the art room, music room and gymnasium. The numerous windows throughout the building help create a feeling of shared space even between rooms. Haugen said true collaboration requires respect.

“We want to be respectful to everyone and have a safe environment, and we wanted to talk about what that will actually look like. We are a brand-new community and we need to establish those routines and procedures, and have a common level of respect for everybody.”

To further community building and creating a new East Lake identity, the school has already planned its first fundraiser. Laps for the Lake will take place on Sept. 29. It is a pledge drive event where students will take buses to East Lake and walk around it. During their walk, students will participate in activities and learning opportunities related to nature.

“It is just a way of celebrating a new building and the opportunity that we are all one community,” Haugen said.

Haugen is also planning a dedication ceremony in early or mid-October. At the ceremony, East Lake Elementary will reveal its school mascot, which the students will help select. They’ll also announce the school colors and school song. Haugen said the school is also working on a to-be-announced project that will allow this first group of students to leave a permanent mark on the building.

Haugen said the biggest challenge so far at East Lake Elementary has been rapid growth.

East Lake Elementary’s art room creates an environment for collaboration. Photo by Amy Mihelich

“Our challenge is to make sure we provide a learning experience that works for each classroom, and each student, so that as this growth continues – and I’m anticipating that it will – we can continue to provide the best possible learning experience for our kids,” he said.

Understanding that each student will come into this new environment with different emotions is also important, Haugen said.

“We have five schools coming together, and we are going to work hard to make the East Lake School a community,” he said. “Parents are excited and kids are excited, and we want to build off of that excitement for sure. But, some kids are missing their friends and we want them to feel that ‘this is my school, this is my community and I can feel at home when I walk into East Lake.’ ”

Haugen described his staff as “resilient.” He said they are excited about being a community of instructors who can develop the culture at East Lake.

As construction at East Lake Elementary approaches completion, and students prepare for their first day at a new school, building on ideals of collaboration and community remain the top priority.

“Yesterday we didn’t have sod. Today, we have a front yard,” he said. “Every day you see changes and it’s just everybody coming together.”

Contact Amy Mihelich at [email protected]