OGDEN — Jessica Smith was waiting for a school like New Bridge.
The Ogden mom has all four of her children — kindergarten, second-, fourth- and sixth-grade — enrolled at New Bridge School. The new building is tucked into the heart of inner-city Ogden at 2150 Jefferson Ave. It replaced Dee Elementary School.
Smith chairs the community council, a group of parents who review funds that will go to the Ogden’s School District’s newest school.
And Smith has a professional tie to the school; she’s the new librarian.
The school’s principal is Vincent Ardizzone, who leaves Madison Elementary School. New Bridge students will wear uniforms, Ardizzone said.
New Bridge, which had its official ribbon-cutting on Thursday, follows a Project Lead the Way STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) elementary curriculum. The roughly 620 students will use project-based learning.
“Project-based learning is what helps students succeed in the real world,” Smith said. “It teaches them to solve problems on their own. You really embrace the learning process.”
Kelly Witkowski, one of three fourth-grade educators at New Bridge, offers a basic example of project-based teaching. Say students are assigned the task of creating a boat out of foil. A text, or a teacher’s instructions, are not the go-to resources. Instead, students have a table filled with supplies that they select and use to create the boat.
“They (the students) have to explore to see what works the best,” Witkowski explains. Students follow a design process of identifying a problem, exploring solutions, modifying solutions, and improving their skills.
“It encourages collaboration and creativity,” Witkowski said.
A PIPELINE OF PROGRESS
Ardizzone describes STEM-based learning as a seamless process. Students are ready for the next step of project-based learning as they move through and on to the next grade. Within a grade, if a student progresses more rapidly, his or her learning challenges can be adjusted, he adds.
Despite being the only STEM school in the Ogden School District, Ardizzone says the district is committed to having STEM opportunities through the end of high school. “It’s already planned. ... The pipeline is already created all the way,” he said.
Roger Snow is the director of STEM efforts for the district. A list of schools, organizations and businesses allied with New Bridge is impressive. They include Parker Aerospace, Orbital-ATK, Hill Air Force Base, Whiteclouds 3D Printing, Weber State University, Boeing, Northrup-Grumman, Ogden city, Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College, and many more.
A STEM learning process allows students to take the tech- and science-heavy careers that are in abundance in Northern Utah, Ardizzone said. New Bridge is designed to get students on the track to those jobs.
At New Bridge, students will sometimes fail on projects, but they will “learn from failure” and improve the next time. The learning process moves forward, perhaps faster for some, Ardizzone said.
“We’re hoping to have our students, even the brightest ones, to be challenged, to go further than they have,” he added.
UNIQUE TEACHING METHODS
While traditional skills, such as reading and language arts, remain similar, New Bridge educators have lots of flexibility too. “They all have the ability to design (their teaching) as they want,” Ardizzone said. The key goal remains: “We want students to be challenged.”
Witkowski and other fourth-grade teachers are diverging from the traditional one-teacher-to-a-classroom style. For example, Witkowski will rotate as the “specialist” in engineering and technology education. The other teachers also have their specialty subjects.
Classrooms are designed for easy movement within the class and to other classes. Each grade has its own “wing” at the new school. Educators work with students to find interests, such as technology, 3D printing, engineering, coding, chemistry, etc., that can be nurtured.
“These jobs are out there that no one is qualified for,” Witkowski said. If the students can find their passions and get on the STEM track, “you have engineers” and other career specialists, she added.
The New Bridge School educators are either STEM-certified or in the process of attaining it. “I was lucky enough to be able to select them,” Ardizzone said.
Every grade “wing” at New Bridge has several rooms. There are student labs through the entire building, including 3D printing, robotics, coding, other technologies, and a chemistry lab. The library has traditional books and e-books. Computer labs with instant online learning access are in abundance.
Younger students receive iPads, older students Chromebooks. The traditional teachers’ desk is gone. The educators have podiums, and can move freely about learning center tables with easy-to-move parts. Doors to grade wings are designed to keep away outside noise.
PARENTS THE FINAL COMPONENT
Walking through the school, a few days before it opens, Ardizzone can hardly contain his excitement. Educators, students, supplies, equipment, training, New Bridge has all that. There’s one final component for success.
“Now we need the parents. ... So far, they have been so excited,” he said.
“I think a lot of parents want to be involved,” Witkowski said. New Bridge includes parental involvement as a component of success, she added.
Smith, who leads the community council, believes the parents will do their part. “We have a massive amount of parents already emailing and calling, asking ‘how can we help?’”