Architects offered their first peek at expansion designs for the Mary Hooker Environmental Studies Magnet School in Hartford Monday, showing renditions that featured a butterfly vivarium, a greenhouse, a planetarium, an aquatic lab and a living ecosystem in the lobby beneath a soaring glass ceiling.
The designs, presented to the school building committee by the architectural firm BL Companies, will expand the Sherbrooke Avenue school from its current 73,000 square feet to 104,000 square feet. The cost has been pegged at $41.775 million, 95 percent of which will come from a state grant.
The inter-district magnet school uses the Global Learning program created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for in-depth scientific investigation and experimentation. All of the school's teachers are becoming certified in the program, Principal Raul Montanez-Pitre said.
In addition to the core curriculum, the 435 students enrolled in the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school study the atmosphere, soil, hydrology, land cover and global positioning systems. Through these areas of study, students take what they learn about math and science in their classrooms and apply it in labs and in their studies of the outside environment, said Christine Joslyn, who directs the infusion of the environmental theme into the curriculum.
In the future, she said, there will be more emphasis in the school on studying alternative forms of energy and the benefits of recycling.
Through the butterfly vivarium that will be built as part of the expansion, students will study life cycles of butterflies and the environment that supports them. Behind the school there is a 10-acre nature center with a walking trail and a brook that students use for study.
Last year, youngsters planted milkweed along the river to attract monarch butterflies, Joslyn said. Students also study pollutants and oxygen levels in the stream, and they check its pH level regularly.
The school expansion plans also include a 750-square-foot independent living center laid out in the form of a house, including a kitchen, living room and dining room. Here, students in grades 5-8 will be paired with developmentally disabled students, and together they will learn how to take care of a house, how to read labels on medications, food and cleaning products, how to clean using environmentally friendly products and other skills, Montanez-Pitre said.
The transformation of the school from a neighborhood elementary has been ongoing for 12 years, Montanez-Pitre said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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