On the morning of August 15th, students, teachers, administrators, local officials, and community members celebrated the opening of the Grand Rapids Public Museum School high school in the old Public Museum building, 54 Jefferson Ave. SE.
After the ribbon cutting, highlighted by remarks from 9th graders Jourdin Merrill and Haley Miller, tours and a street party continued the celebration. Those old enough to remember visits to the building when it functioned as a museum appreciated a renovation that has not altered the character of the building.
“The purpose of all the spaces is to be dynamic and used in different ways for different purposes,” says Chris Hanks, Museum School principal.
The main hall remains intact, its display cases updated for exhibits made by the school’s students. North of the main hall, the front half of the first floor is a multi-purpose space for theatre, music, and videography. A large common area and glass-walled rehearsal spaces have all the tech needed to support student projects. Retractable glass doors opening on the main hall open up both spaces for large group activities. The back half provides instructional space and labs for studying existing museum artifacts, processing new artifacts for the collection, and designing exhibits. In addition, the building connects to the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s archives building.
“The students will have a close relationship with (the Public Museum’s) curatorial staff,” Hanks says. “They will bring artifacts here. They will do research on artifacts and learn about protecting and preserving artifacts.”
South of the main hall, a small cafeteria offers limited seating as students and teachers will be encouraged to eat lunch together in collaborative spaces throughout the school. To the front, the design lab brings shop class into the 21st century.
“Design lab is an arts space, a maker space. I think of it like shop class for creative professionals,” Hanks says. “Students will do a lot of computer-based design. We have a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, all sorts of printing, a miter saw, and other tools. A separate clean lab maintains air quality for the 3D printers and laser cutters. We hope our students will start businesses using that equipment, serving small businesses downtown.”
Upstairs, the north wing, dedicated to English, language arts, science, and social studies, has classrooms on either side with a large, casual common space in between. The curriculum is organized for three or four teachers to co-teach 80 to 90 students in different configurations. The south wing is set up for teaching design, tech, and mathematics. Throughout the school, video displays, mics, and speakers give every student front-row access to instruction. Built-in benches along both long upstairs hallways provide further space for students to study or collaborate in small groups.
“It is a different model in the sense that we are trying to break down barriers between teachers and students,” Hanks says. “We encourage them to have lunch together, work together, and collaborate.”
The ribbon-cutting event not only celebrated the Museum School’s expansion but also applauded its status as one of ten XQ Super Schools in the U.S. The XQ: The Super School Project launched in September 2015 as an open call to rethink and design the American high school.
When the public museum was first founded, the Grand Rapids School Board oversaw it; artifacts were displayed at Central High School. When Grand Rapids architect, Roger Allen, designed the 54 Jefferson building in the late 1930s, he created a space that met visitors at street level, symbolizing accessibility and free dissemination of knowledge to all. The GRPS Museum School “utilizes design thinking techniques, an immersive environment, and real-life experiences that inspire passionate curiosity, nurture creative problem solving, cultivate critical thinking, and instigate innovation.”
Reconnecting the historic Grand Rapids Public Museum building with Grand Rapids Public School students both honors its past and continues its original mission into the future.
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor