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Jewish School Aims to Build 'This Century School'

Students at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit will soon have a new learning space, thanks to a generous donation from the William and Audrey Farber Philanthropic Endowment Fund at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. According to a story reported by the Detroit Jewish News, the gift will fund three phases of a four-phase renovation project slated to begin in June.

The goal of the project is to create a "'this century school'," that fosters hands-on, collaborative learning, said Steve Freedman, head of the Farmington Hills, MI preK-8 school.

"Learning is social," Freedman told the reporter. "We need to make sure our kids are prepared with the 'three Rs,' and also with skills essential in today's world." Additionally, the renovated areas will foster the school's "seven Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, community, character, communication and core Jewish values."

Hillel's new space will be a departure from traditional classroom design, according to architect Prakash Nair, president and founding partner of Fielding Nair International (FNI), a Tampa, FL-based architectural firm. FNI, specialists in school architecture, will be heading up the project.

"The whole notion of educating kids in traditional classrooms is obsolete," Nair said. "It's a remnant of the industrial age where kids are widgets in a factory." His vision for the school includes spacious, flexible areas where students can work at their own pace or in teams, on various projects, and teachers act as facilitators. "Children have different personalities, aptitudes and talents. A school should feel like a comfortable, happy place to be, not institutional. We have to change the physical building -- it's the envelope where 21st-century education happens."

The first phase of the project will be Hillel's Central Heart. The area, designed to accommodate up to 300 people, will include a fireplace, presentation platform and movable seating. It will also feature a "'learning cave' with windows, a glassed-in conference area and glass folding doors" that lead to the school's library.

Phase two will be the Innovation Hub. The space, intended to foster creativity in art, technology and the environment, will feature a "'libratory,' an art studio, science lab, group areas, a greenhouse, gardens, indoor and outdoor learning porches, an audio/video studio and a Makerspace, where students can engage in creative, hands-on tinkering and learning blending art and science."

In phase three, the school will convert its gymnasium into a cafe and add a kitchen and music room. The Cafe and Kitchen will offer indoor and outdoor seating.

The school's hallways will be widened and outfitted with comfortable furniture and areas designated for discussion groups and meetings.

Phase four will transform classrooms into learning communities. The school is looking for funding sources for this stage of the renovation.

The school anticipates that most of the renovation will be completed before the new school year begins in the fall.

About the Author

Kanoe Namahoe is online editor for 1105 Media's Education Group. She can be reached at knamahoe@1105media.com.

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