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Designated STEM Wing Welcomes Students Back to Milton High

A new wing of Milton High School in Wisconsin, paid for by a voter-approved proposal in 2019, is dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and will give students space to return safely.

by Benjamin Pierce, The Janesville Gazette, Wis. / March 29, 2021

(TNS) — More than 100 Milton High School staffers—teachers, nutrition team members, support staff and administrators—are part of one big moving crew this week.

On Thursday, they began transporting everything from desks to pencil sharpeners into the high school's new STEM wing, whose completion dovetails nicely with the school's return to full-time, in-person learning April 5.

The hallways resembled Janesville's Milton Avenue as employees carried filing cabinets, anatomical skeletons and crates of textbooks to their new location in the wing, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math classes.

Painted in huge white letters on one of the walls were the words "Dream Design Create."

"I'm just really excited about the possibilities," said high school math teacher Jan Bue-Wells. "You know, we're not used to this space. So there's a lot of things we don't know that we can do yet. It's going to be a learning curve for us and will open up the possibilities of things that we can do."

High School Principal Jeremy Bilhorn reminded staff members of the long road that preceded the new addition, which was paid for through a $59.9 million facilities referendum voters approved in 2019 after rejecting other proposals.

The new spaces at the high school and middle school won't be used to full capacity until next school year. Their main purpose for the rest of this year is to keep students socially distanced.

Stephen Schantz, director of building and grounds, said the referendum improvements helped the district return to a fully in-person schedule.

"I don't know how we would have done it without it, to be totally honest," Schantz said.

"Going all the way back to when we opened up for school in the fall, had we not had the additions available at the elementary schools, we wouldn't have been able to space kids out like we were able to do there. And now having these spaces open up at the exact time we're going to have kids come back here is great."

The lunchroom has required the most creativity, he said.

A traditional lunch table that used to seat 12 students now seats a socially distanced two. Students also are eating lunch in desks in the gym and hallways.

Superintendent Rich Dahman said the best educational model for most students is face to face with their peers. The district wants to balance safety with quality education, and this seemed like the right time to have students return, he said.

"It's really huge," Dahman said of the role of the new improvements in the scheduling.

"The STEM addition is really going to allow us to spread out students a little bit more. And the same thing at the middle school. We're adding about 20,000 square feet of new space at the middle school that we'll be opening up here at the end of the month. And it just allows us to spread out students a little bit more to ease that crowding that we have in place."

About 75 percent of high school students and about 80 percent of middle schoolers will be in person April 5. Masks will still be required, and social distancing will be enforced wherever possible.

"I think it's an important message that we aren't throwing our doors wide open," Dahman said. "We're continuing to be diligent about protecting our own safety and the safety of others."

The STEM wing has flexible learning spaces, including conference rooms, hallway seating areas and open rooms, to allow for more spacing during instruction and lunchtime. That and six math classrooms, five science labs, a media room and technical education areas will help keep students attending school in person, Bilhorn said.

The excitement over in-person learning in a new space has energized Bilhorn and his staff. Meanwhile, students are reimagining homecoming and a fuller high school experience this spring.

"I've always been striving to get students to take a problem and design a solution, based on looking at the criteria of what are you trying to meet? What is the goal?" science teacher Tara Ferron said.

"And there's so many spaces here where students can test how things fall with height. Or with my biomedical students, we do labs with pill design, and being able to go out in these spaces or collaborate with other content areas. ... That's so much easier when we have it like this."

The high school still has areas where social distancing is difficult, and COVID-19 still could pose problems before the school year ends. But Bilhorn feels good about having students back fully in person.

"Obviously, there's some hesitation on can we or should we be doing this," he said. "But there is an excitement about getting these kids back. ... We need to teach kids how to be part of a student body again. There's an excitement in the high school. There's a buzz with that. And I'm excited to get that going again."

(c)2021 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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