If school is a building site, turn the situation to students' advantage
The pond has been drained, old buildings have been torn down and the grounds are full of heavy-duty earth-moving and construction machinery. Sydenham School in Lewisham, South London, is a building site.
One response might have been to batten down the hatches, leaving the builders and developers to their own devices on the construction site while students and staff at the girls' school hunkered down in temporary classrooms and adapted to new routes around the campus.
"Not so at Sydenham," headteacher Carolyn Unsted says. "This is the greatest change (at the school) in over 50 years and, given that we are a Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) specialist school, the challenge to staff from the beginning was to find ways to tie the construction into the girls' learning and view it as an opportunity rather than a disturbance."
The response has been imaginative and varied and has spread far beyond Stem classrooms. For example, the school's careers service got the ball rolling a year ago by holding a careers fair designed to "storyboard" the development. There were stands run by companies and organisations involved in every stage of the project, from planning and architecture to IT consultancy, landscaping and premises management.
Crucially, each exhibitor was asked to send female employees to the event. "As well as enhancing the curriculum, our goal has been to ensure that the girls make the connection between their studies and careers requiring the maths, science and engineering they've learned," Unsted says.
This has been particularly emphasised for the dozens of students in lower years who attend after-school Stem clubs. After considerable negotiation over health and safety, they have been venturing on-site to talk to the specialists overseeing the building work.
"We met a piling engineer last week," says Maja Zielinska, aged 12. "She explained all about the importance of soil types and friction when it comes to driving piles and how the concrete needs to be reinforced. It certainly opened my eyes to possible engineering careers."
English and geography have also benefited, with plans afoot to use the development as a stimulus for a writing competition and a renewable resources and sustainability project. Students will be challenged to describe and design their "ideal schools of the future".
"We'll be inviting the girls to use lots of new architectural vocabulary, but also to let their imaginations go wild," says English teacher Ally Lister. "I hope the new building won't be a disappointment to them in the end; it's unlikely to include Star Trek-like `teleportation' facilities, for example."
Perhaps most surprising of all is the response of the textiles department to the sometimes bizarre sight of nearby demolition work and piledriving equipment rising hundreds of feet into the air.
"We took on a Pop Art project based on the monumental, playful, floppy sculptures created by Claes Oldenburg," says textiles subject leader Karen Martin. "It began with students Photoshopping everyday classroom items on to pictures of the school, and in the end we settled on creating some giant 8ft-long pencils, made from all-weather plastic material and stuffed with huge quantities of wadding."
"This is just the beginning," Unsted says. "Wait until the 60m tower crane arrives on site. I know the teachers have plans to make good use of that."
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