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Student gallery just part of transformation of Brookings Magnet school

Date: 2/1/2010

Feb. 1, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The opening of a new gallery space at the Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School on Jan. 20 is one more step in the transformation of the pre-K through fifth grade school.

As the only museum magnet school in the city, the students regularly visit the Springfield Museums as well as take field trips to out of town museums. The museums they visit and the exhibits they see are integrated into the lesson plans for the various grades, Principal Terry Powe explained to Reminder Publications.

The new gallery, in what was once a nurse's office, is a place where students' works can be displayed. With the track lighting and the exhibit designed for easy changes, the room looks like one found in a museum. Powe said she saw a gallery space at a school in Tennessee and wanted to have one at Brookings.

She said that when she arrived at the school over two years ago "the atmosphere here was toxic." Making physical improvements to the building, such as the painting of walls, the addition of new lighting and the gallery space, has helped the morale of both students and staff, she said.

"I'm proud of where we are as a school," Powe said at the opening of the gallery.

Josh Bogin, the director of the three magnet schools in Springfield, explained the magnet method does "things differently not for just doing something differently, but to inspire the children."

He noted how the Brookings students re-enacted the 1963 march on Washington as part of their lessons on the civil rights movement.

Ron Berger, of Expeditionary Learning Schools, a non-profit organization that works with public school systems, explained there had been initial reluctance within the organization to make a commitment with the Springfield district.

"I believe in this school because of Terry," he said. "He called the rebirth of the school "an incredible thing."

In a tour around the school a week after the opening, Powe showed how the experience of a visit to Plymouth Plantation by a group of third graders has been turned into an educational exercise. On the second flood of the school on Hancock Street, there is a large model of the type of shelter built by Native Americans on the Massachusetts coast during the time of the Pilgrims. The student gathered branches of saplings, carefully bent them and lashed them together with twine. The outer covering was yet to be added.

Around the corner three third-graders and a teacher were busy in a hallway preparing hay as the thatched roof of another large model, this one representing the kind of building the European settlers built.

Inside a classroom, other third-graders were discussing the differences between the shelters and the impressions of the field trip.

Outside a classroom on the third floor are posters of questions and answers concerning abolitionist John Brown and the issue of slavery. Brown was a resident of Springfield.

In the magnet teachers' office, Powe shows a large chart in which the outside museum trips are scheduled with lesson plans.

Powe said Brookings not only has neighborhood students through the boundary system, but attracts students from around the city as a magnet school.

As one enters the school, there is a wall-sized display that greets visitors with information about the school as well as a flat-screen television displaying photos from various school events. Powe said she wanted something to provide a "wow factor."

"We work with many fine schools, but there is none I'm more proud of than Brookings," Berger said.