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The student news site of Smoky Hill High School

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The student news site of Smoky Hill High School

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The Innovation Space Plan for the 2024/2025 Year – A conversation with Andre Bala

What will the collab spaces look like for the 2024-2025 school year?

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the study spaces lining the school hallways were installed.

Andre Bala, the Smoky Hill principal, starts with an explanation of what the original goal of these study spaces were.

“So the initial intention of the collaboration spaces would be a gathering place for students. Almost like a student union, a hangout that would you see in a college. Come and go as you please, preferably on [students’] off periods,”

However, almost all of them have been closed since the end of the 2022/2023 year. Bala also gave his perspective on the reasons why the collab spaces are no longer accessible.

“The issue is that it gets so loud, it becomes disruptive to classes. We were seeing a lot of that, where the teachers would come out of their rooms to keep the space quiet. We also ran into issues with vandalism, with trash being left behind, and with staff supervision,” he said.

“We also have to ensure safety, security, and there has to be a level of honor and acknowledgment of the spaces, of course. It just wasn’t happening on the level that it needed to. All of these reasons combined, are what lead to the original shutting down of the spaces in January of the next semester [after the spaces opened],”

After the first closing of the spaces, staff worked to find solutions. “We came up with some new expectations and rules, structures, and supportive staff supervision,” Bala said.

However, there were still concerns after the first re-opening.

“There were so many instances of students being disrespectful to the staff members in the space, not really honoring the expectations, not honoring the space itself. It became so problematic and so overwhelming, frankly, that we decided to close them again. And that was at the end of the 22 to 23 school year,”

After explaining the reasons for being shut down, Andre Bala speaks about the use of the spaces this year.

“We wanted to repurpose them. So, I created one space where it is staffed, and students are able to work and socialise at a moderate level. We dedicated one space to that, and then keep the other spaces closed. It was more due to wanting teachers to be allowed the opportunity to take their classes there if needed for getting out of the classroom or working in a different area. [I wanted it as] an exploratory learning type of thing, and dedicate the cafeteria to how that has always been, and the library how it’s always been as well,”

“So the decision to  put the sanctions around the areas was to not only preserve the spaces, but remind students that they are closed and not accessible at this point in time,” said Bala.

It seems that this course of action may be working.

“We’ve seen an improvement in the one open space for sure. I think students are rising to the occasion they’re expected to rise to, and utilizing the space, for the most part, as it was intended. We still have some issues with the noise level and disruptions in students who want to be in a space who shouldn’t be there, but not to the degree that we had last year,”

This begs the question: What’s the plan for next year?

“Going into next school year, I’ve asked for staff feedback on the spaces and I’m also going to be asking for student feedback on the spaces. My vision is to convert the upstairs open space into an academic centered space, where students can receive tutoring, academic help, and support,” he said.

“I want to dedicate the cafeteria solely to socialization, like a student union, and keep the library as a quiet workspace. And really, the library and collaboration spaces should mirror each other around the expectations, like the check in process. We’re going to be asking next year for students who go to the collaboration spaces to scan their ID to verify that their off period corresponds to that point in time,”

“The remaining collaboration spaces have the same principle, and will allow those to be accessed through a checkout process. Teachers can bring their classes there for supervised work time. But, it all depends on how well we do next year,”

“I have good intentions about the spaces, and I think students have good intentions, just don’t always execute them in the right way, and we have to protect against that,” Bala said at the end of the conversation.

There have been numerous challenges with the provided collaboration spaces this year. But, staff is actively coming up with solutions and if they’re followed students will be able to utilize the areas once again.

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