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Thompson Middle School students begin school year with upgraded classrooms, equipment.

Byline: Lauren Rohr

If they didn't know any better, students and teachers walking into Thompson Middle School for the first day of classes Wednesday could mistake it for an entirely new facility.

The St. Charles school at 705 W. Main St. is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, a new cafeteria, high-functioning science labs, collaborative team spaces and an auxiliary gym that couples as a storm shelter. Air conditioning flows through the building, and everything is on wheels the furniture, the bookshelves, the bleachers to ensure mobility and flexibility.

"These are exciting times," Principal Steve Morrill said. "We have kids that come to us every day ready to learn, and we now are able to match them with a top-notch facility."

The expansion and renovation of Thompson wrapped up this summer, just in time to accommodate 1,320 sixth- through eighth-graders this academic year. A new turf field was added outside, and a surrounding track and grassy area are nearing completion.

With the new construction, remodeled hallways and upgraded classrooms, it's almost hard to believe portions of the building were originally built in 1925 as the George E. Thompson High School. That's why St. Charles Unit District 303 administrators kept various subtleties throughout the middle school that give a nod to the past, Morrill said.

The high school's original signage, for example, is still visible above the cafeteria entrance. Previously exterior walls were maintained as interior brick accents. The proscenium that outlined a former stage was kept in tact, and a theater balcony was converted into science labs.

"Despite the renovation and the newness and the state-of-the-art equipment, there's been attention to detail of the historical significance of the building that the architects captured," Morrill said. "A kid's appreciation for what's come before them is incredibly powerful, in my opinion, and if we're not intentional about reminding them and teaching them about that, that'll get lost."

The Thompson improvements were part of a nearly $50 million plan to upgrade and consolidate the district's middle school facilities. Haines was closed last spring, and the more recently built Wredling, which has about 1,500 students, received new science classrooms, an expanded cafeteria and an updated kitchen.

At Thompson, the goal was to improve the aesthetics and flow of the building, upgrade safety features and accommodate new teaching methods and future technology changes, district spokeswoman Carol Smith said. New bus lanes also were created on the west side of the school to alleviate traffic on local streets.

During the school day, students are divided into 12 teams with their core teachers and classrooms within one designated area. Each of those "pods" has space for collaboration, and some have a "fish bowl" room with a green screen where students can work with digital technology.

Work spaces also were updated for various specialty classes, including wood shop, engineering, art, music and cooking.

Science teacher Julie Smith, who has worked at Thompson since 1988, says she vividly remembers the hassle of going to the bathroom to fill buckets of water for science experiments. She eventually upgraded to a room with one sink. Now she has several faucets with individual lab stations, and a separate room to prepare experiments and store materials.

Not only do the improvements allow her to teach more efficiently, she said, but students also seem to take the work more seriously.

"The facility itself now is second to none," Morrill said. "It's prideful to know that our students and kids in this community are able to learn in such a wonderful environment, which is also consistent with our sister school (Wredling) across the way."
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Aug 15, 2019
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