February 11, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Director Norma Neumann-Johnson was
like a kid touring her new house as she led her teachers through
newly built Breakthrough Magnet School Friday. The school will move
from Cornwall Street over spring break in April.
The $29.5 million building on Brookfield
Street in Hartford is the first city-run magnet school to move into
digs built from the ground up just for them. Everything is customized.
A special feature is a "sensory
room" where students will go if they need to calm down or perk
up. There they will find soothing contraptions such as a hanging
lounge chair with pleasant music playing, big bubble tubes and special
lights that they can hold.
Each classroom on the first floor for
pre-k through fourth grade has a kitchen where teachers can cook
with their students to teach them math lessons such as fractions.
Students will eat in their rooms, family style, so teachers can
reinforce table manners in keeping with the school's character education
theme. For easy cleanup, each room has a dishwasher.
Classrooms have window seats for storytelling
and doors leading outside to raised garden beds. Students will grow
vegetables and flowers in the gardens and cook their veggies in
the kitchens. Grades 5 through 8 on the second floor share a large
Teachers have their own offices and
every two classes share a bathroom. In place of traditional blackboards,
walls will have special boards hooked up to the teachers' wireless
laptop computers. And each class has an anteroom with cubbyholes
for coats and boots.
The art and music rooms have soaring
ceilings that reach two stories. The music room has special angles
for improved acoustics and a special studio where ensembles can
There's the "gymatorium"
with a stage for the community meetings that the entire school has
each week and there will be a low ropes course outside to teach
Windows throughout have surprising
shapes and sizes. Classes, for example, have small squares at eye
level for young children and the library boasts a broad, arched
window that covers the length of a wall.
Attached to the library is a television
studio. Each day, students will broadcast "Breakthrough News"
to televisions in all the classrooms.
There are even training rooms for the
teachers from throughout the nation that Neumann-Johnson expects
will come and study her program.
From outside, the part of the building
that faces the road looks like two-story row houses - each painted
a different color. The other side, facing the new Rice Heights houses,
looks like a one-story building because it is built into a hill.
"This is unbelievable," Tim
Houlton, a math and science teacher for the upper grades, declared
as he stepped out to the roof garden. "I love it. It's open
and airy and it feels warm."
Gabrielle Brodeur, a first-grader
at the school who joined her father on the tour, gave the building
a thumbs-up. "I like it. It's pretty," she said. "And
I like the hallways - they're curvy."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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