Durkee, the Superintendent of Sand Springs Public Schools, “and for the most part, we’ve been learning in person [for students who selected that option] to keep things as normal as possible.”The pandemic has halted everything from concerts to business conferences across the globe, but in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, not all plans have been thwarted. Educators and administrators are striving to reshape education, even through circumstances that make it difficult to press forward.
Exactly one year before the coronavirus swept across the country, Sandites voted overwhelmingly to pass a bond proposition that would fund new projects throughout Sand Springs Public Schools, including a new Ninth Grade Center and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Academy at Charles Page High School and a new storm shelter and gym at Angus Valley Elementary.
Now, in the spring of 2021, the Ninth Grade Center has been completed and the gym and storm shelter is slated for completion in June.
Construction for the Ninth Grade Center and STEM Academy wrapped in August 2020, just in time for students to begin classes. “In-person instruction started in August district-wide,” says Sherry D
The former building of the Freshman Academy was almost 100 years old and was “tricky to navigate.” The new building is modern and outfitted with brand new furniture and four classrooms dedicated to teaching biomedical courses, computer programming, and computer science courses.
“The freshman class there now never experienced the old building,” says Sherry. “You don’t know how much better it is if you hadn’t experienced [the former building], but everyone just absolutely loves it.”
“Aside from COVID-19,” Sherry says, “the students are having the time of their lives.”
Though the freshmen have moved to their new building, the old freshman building is still being utilized, particularly in the media center. Typically, the Sand Springs Virtual Academy 𑁋 which started nine years ago, before virtual learning was implemented for many districts across the state 𑁋 has almost 300 students. This year, that number has quadrupled (including students who are participating in a blended model of virtual and in-person learning).
“We had quite a bit of experience prior to this year,” Sherry says, “so shifting to accommodate more students wasn’t a huge challenge.”
Students learning virtually don’t have to follow a traditional six hour schedule, as their courses and course materials can be accessed at night and on weekends. Each weekday, there are three teachers, including a special education teacher, at the academy doing some live instruction and tutoring. Plus, Sand Springs Public Schools has incorporated an after-school tutoring program where students can come and receive additional instruction from twelve available tutors until 6 o’clock most weekdays. “It’s a unique model and I think it’s been well-received in the community,” Sherry says.
She adds, “Jay Rotert has been working in this capacity for a couple years and really took on a challenge, and he’s doing a great job.”
With only a couple months left of the 2020-2021 school year, teachers and students continue working through the curriculum. This spring, in-person students will practice storm drills, which involves moving away from windows and sheltering in the interior areas of the schools. Sand Springs, unfortunately, is no stranger to the destruction caused by springtime storms. Because of the town’s history of severe weather, having an on-site storm shelter is critical. As part of the ask to the public two years ago, Angus Valley Elementary is receiving a new storm shelter and gym.
“Angus Valley Elementary is the only school left that didn’t have a space for PE,” says Sherry, “and the new gym can accommodate the entire student body during [severe weather].”
By summer, the building will house a regulation, high-school sized basketball court and volleyball court, plus it will feature ICF blocks to withstand “heavy-duty storms.” While the building isn’t an official safe room, it is built like a storm shelter.
The new Ninth Grade Center and gym at Angus Valley Elementary are designed by KKT Architects, Inc. and constructed by L.D. Kerns Contractors.
Committed to educating students from pre-K to 12th grade, not even a global pandemic or severe storm can stop the educators and administrators in Sand Springs from challenging, inspiring, and empowering its students 𑁋 even if it means continuously reshaping education to meet the constantly-evolving needs and challenges for the future leaders of Sand Springs.