Along with the rebuilding and remodeling of East Lansing school district’s elementary schools, the programming inside of them will see some changes, too. And the school board is moving toward more diversity and inclusion in these early childhood communities.
Part of the change will be the addition of seven classrooms to Red Cedar, now under construction. East Lansing Superintendent Dori Leyko said at the March 26 School Board meeting that whether these classrooms would have a special instructional model or be multi-age is yet to be determined by the board.
“We have the opportunity to create something really unique, which could then be replicated in other buildings if it’s successful,” said Trustee Karen Hoene.
Programming and construction going forward
On April 9 at 6 p.m., there will be a groundbreaking ceremony at Red Cedar Elementary, kicking off some of the outdoor construction. Construction projects throughout the district were approved following the May, 2017 voter approval of a $93.77 million bond issue. Work on Red Cedar Elementary began in February and is set to be completed in 2021.
The four other elementary schools in East Lansing will be rebuilt as well. Work on Glencairn and Donley Elementary will begin in June after students leave school for the summer. When all the schools are back in operation, Leyko said that the board will draw new boundaries so that each building would contain 300 students, an enrollment that currently varies among the schools.
Trustee Terah Chambers has a son who attends Glencairn Elementary and has experienced the changes associated with the construction. She said it would be interesting to see what happens once Red Cedar reopens.
“It will probably create a little bit of a shift in the boundaries, especially for Glencairn Elementary, because a significant part of the population that goes to Glencairn will be back at Red Cedar,” Chambers said. “But it creates opportunities for us to create equity in terms of building size across the district, which is really important.”
Moving toward diversity
Chambers said that when the board draws new boundaries, it should be thoughtful about making sure that diversity is represented across the elementary schools.
“It’s not just an East Lansing issue, it’s a national issue around elementary schools tending to be more segregated racially,” Chambers said. “East Lansing is a diverse community and that’s something that a lot of us value. If we’re not thoughtful, we could also have an opportunity to reinforce and increase residential segregation, and I would hate for that to happen.”
Chambers noted that boundary lines should be sensitive to those who have strong associations to their schools.
“Even 20, 30 years later, you know where you went to school as an elementary school kid,” Chambers said. “Diversity is important, but so is the connection that people have to their local school.”
Hoene also said it is important to take note of the populations surrounding Red Cedar Elementary when making not only boundary decisions, but programming decisions as well.
The population surrounding Red Cedar “is probably going to continue being a transitory neighborhood because of all the international student housing that’s over there, and so for that reason having multi-age classrooms tend to be better.”
Moving toward inclusion
The board discussed the multi-age, or blended, classroom model during its meeting and what benefits the model could bring to Red Cedar programming.
“The model that we really are driven to move toward is an inclusive one with blended populations,” Hoene, who is a part of the Early Childhood Committee, said. “With my background in early childhood, this is not just my own desire, but it’s what we’re mandated to do as a district, moving toward those inclusive classrooms.”
Hoene said she used to run play groups for elementary students with special needs that are now a part of these blended classrooms. She said that the Early Childhood Committee envisioned the spaces within East Lansing’s elementary schools to look like this.
“I think that there’s a lot of support for the idea that not all kids are developing at the same time, at the same rate and at the same age,” Chambers said. “Moving to classrooms that have a little bit less rigidity, blended classrooms or multi-age classrooms, allow more flexibility for the developmental age for kids to play a role into what class they’re placed into.”
Lenko said she hopes the board will begin making concrete decisions regarding the programming of the seven additional classrooms in Red Cedar by the fall of 2018. She said that diversity and inclusion will be a part of these future discussions.
“It’s a great thing for our students with special needs to be integrated with appropriately developing peers and vice versa,” Leyko said. “It’s beneficial for everybody.”