Four Red Deer middle school students have returned triumphant from a weekend in Pittsburgh.
The Eastview Middle School students, 12 and 13 years old, have worked all school year designing a school and developing an education model as part of the School of the Future Design Competition.
And on the weekend, their project was selected as the top entry in an international contest.
The four students, Cole Webber, Connor McCallister, Alison Harman and Aidan Schafer, presented their Mamawayin School to a panel of experts in Pittsburgh for the international finals in the competition. The name the students chose is a Cree word that means ‘living in a community.’
The Red Deer team was competing with two other finalist groups, from Dayton, Ohio, and the United Kingdom.
After the presentations, the judges read the order in reverse, saying a little about each project as they announced who finished in third, second and first.
“I was pretty nervous because they would describe each presentation first and a couple of times I was worried because ours was pretty similar to the ones they were describing,” said Webber.
“I thought we might get second, but I thought we did a really good job overall. We felt very lucky we had gotten that far in such an amazing program.”
In the development of their school vision, the students looked at various education models, and specifically what was working.
They pointed to educational successes in Finland and South Korea, but focused on Finland because they said it was an interactive and personalized model, with less time spent in class than South Korea.
Their school design also used sustainable aspects, including geothermal heating, solar energy and harnessing wasted energy from rinks to cool the building.
The school proposal includes integration with city plans for the future of the existing Recreation Centre. The students’ plan shows expansion of the aquatics centre, plus a museum and art gallery in their kindergarten to Grade 8 school.
A high school, for students from Grade 9 to 12, would be nearby, attached to a science centre.
Sixteen jurors around a U-shaped table watched as the four made their final presentation. After the presentation, they answered questions from the jury for more an hour.
Twice the jury clapped in response to the students’ answers.
Webber said the applause was in response to a proposal to eliminate standardized testing, replacing it with a portfolio instead; and to the students’ answer to a question on why North American education models hadn’t yet changed to match what they proposed.
“We said the system is set up now in a way it is easier not to change and create something other than the status quo,” said Webber. “They thought that was a fantastic answer.”
The students proposed a new model that encouraged the creation of a better system.
Even though the competition is over for the students, they are not done talking about their proposed school.
They have submitted to put on a workshop at the Council for Education Facility Planners International conference in Indianapolis in September.
“It sounds like, after talking to some people at the conference, it is a real possibility,” said Webber.
There was also some discussion of a role in a conference in Las Vegas. As well, they plan to take the model to Alberta Education.