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Above: Houghton Public School students welcomed Director of Education Brenda Blancher to the new Learning Commons

Houghton Public School Celebrates Transformation of Library to Learning Commons

In the heart of Norfolk County’s rural landscape is Houghton Public School, and living in the countryside certainly has its benefits: access to nature and lower pollution levels, a sense of community with your neighbours, lack of traffic congestion and construction noise. But accessing technology and other learning resources can be difficult, and without libraries, museums and other cultural assets in your hometown, the school becomes students’ passport to the world, and beyond.

Right: Teacher Braden Murray works with a student in the new space

Grade 5 student Lucas is showing Brenda Blancher, Grand Erie’s Director of Education, around the International Space Station. Using a green screen and a laptop, he transports the two of them into a research laboratory in low Earth orbit, with an array of high-tech looking buttons, levers, screens, and displays. Looking on is teacher Braden Murray, who has taught at Houghton Public School for nine years and remembers well what the library – now Learning Commons – looked like before.

“There were no smart boards, the furniture wasn’t conducive to collaboration, there weren’t enough outlets to power up devices; it just didn’t seem to be meeting the needs students have today,” says Murray, who teachers Grade 6. “Now students are constantly asking if we get to work in the Learning Commons.”

Transforming the space was no small feat and is testament to the wider school community’s unwavering determination to bring positive change. Nearly all of the students at Houghton are members of the Low German Mennonite community, with many families settling in southwestern Ontario to bring better opportunities to their children.

Right: Parent Council members Lisa Friesen and Mary Friesen were proud to see the results of fundraising efforts

“Having access to technology is crucial to ensure that when students move on to secondary school, they haven’t missed out on any opportunities,” said Principal Rob Weber as he welcomed a crowd which included Trustees, Ed Tech staff, Superintendents, students and parents to the official opening of the Learning Commons at the end of December. “This space represents a lot of hard work and commitment, and the power of community in realizing Success for Every Student.

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan sets out to achieve just that – Success for Every Student – and does so through the foundational pillars of Technology, ensuring reliable learning environments that allow staff and students to utilize resources in a seamless manner, and Community, which recognizes the importance of parents and other educational partners who enhance the learning experiences of students immensely.

Right: Students show Director Blancher the new green screen in action

“We’re in a rural area, and a lot of homes don’t have reliable high-speed internet,” said Lisa Friesen, one of two members of the school’s Parent Council who was in attendance to see the results of the parent group’s hard work. “Access to technology can open doors to new pathways for our kids, so we wanted to reach for the sky in transforming the library.”

The Parent Council raised additional funds to truly make the space function the way they knew it needed to. Money was used to purchase tablets, furniture and other equipment.

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan also prioritizes Environment, which encompasses a commitment to making sure school spaces reflect current teaching and learning needs, and improving energy and conservation at all sites. The Learning Commons transformation at Houghton follows a consistent pattern happening across the Board to bring these spaces into the 21st century.

“It looks a lot bigger and we have more books and furniture now with a big table to use for the art club,” said Grade 6 student Julia, who took a turn at the podium to address the crowd and explain what the transformation has meant for her. “Before, we had to sit on the carpet to work on crafts, and there weren’t enough outlets to plug in our glue guns.”

The evolution of libraries to Learning Commons means additional goals are realized: Well-Being is achieved by creating a space where students can hang out, work together, and explore talents and interests, all driving Achievement, making sure students can harness opportunities for success.

Photos (from Grand Erie Communications)

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