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August 30, 2018

Bremerton alternative school breaks down walls to learning

  • A former call center has been renovated into a flexible space where students can learn at their own speed.
    Rice Fergus Miller


    The Central Kitsap community is an engaged and proactive group that has rallied behind its school district. Voters there have approved several key capital project measures in recent years, including a $220 million capital bond in 2016 with funding for the district’s alternative school programs.

    In 2017, the Central Kitsap School District graduated 95 of the roughly 45,000 students enrolled in alternative learning programs statewide. This was the largest, most-attended graduating class the district has seen. It can directly be attributed to the district’s concerted effort in improving their schools district-wide.

    The district consolidated its alternative programs into a newly renovated building in East Bremerton. The school, called Barker Creek Community School, opened its doors last fall.

    Housing all K-12 alternative programs under one roof offers students more learning options, and aims to increase graduation rates and improve college and career readiness for hundreds of students.

    Flexible learning

    Photo by Rice Fergus Miller [enlarge]
    Vizlab Teachers can add classroom space by sliding open a white-board wall.

    As an alternative school, the new facility provides a learning environment that allows learners to develop at their most effective pace. It also supports varied learning styles by providing flexibility and fluidity to match students with the appropriate learning environment, which is different from traditional school environments.

    “We’re improving learning experiences and outcomes for students,” said Jeremy Monroe, executive director of secondary teaching and learning.

    While some students need smaller class sizes, some prefer online classes, and some might do better home-schooled but coming to school for science lab or robotics class. All are welcome at Barker Creek. The goal is to tailor the school experience to each student’s needs.

    “When students and families walk in our front door, we’ll be able to help them pick the program or schedule that’s right for them,” said Principal Stuart Crisman.

    The school brings together elements of online learning, classroom-based high school classes, and a parent partnership program that provides support and enrichment for students who learn at home.

    The design of the school needed to provide learning spaces that support the wide spectrum of teaching, learning needs and styles.

    “We’re going to have a good space that allows different styles of teaching,” Crisman said. “Teachers are excited about having the opportunity to learn from each other, make changes and offer more opportunities for kids.”

    Primed to be open

    Architects and interior designers at Rice Fergus Miller were tasked with designing a space that supports the goals and programs of this new school. The 60,000-square-foot former call center was already primed for an open concept.

    “What we’re trying to do is break down the ‘traditional’ walls where you have to be inside the school to do your learning,” Crisman said.

    The sliding white-board walls between the classrooms and common areas are manifestations of that idea. The adjustable walls allow teachers to have flexible room sizes.

    Breakout areas and maker spaces, with their various types of seating and desks, encourage collaboration and creativity. Classrooms are integrated with new technology such as flight simulators and art/science labs.

    Incorporating bold colors and big letters on walls help with wayfinding and reinforce the school identity, which is especially important to the students here.

    Building a culture

    Although learning experiences differ from student to student, the goal is to foster a sense of school community for students and families.

    The new identity begins with a new name, Barker Creek Community School, after the creek that flows behind the building. The students participated in choosing the school colors and their mascot.

    The students identify with the school and feel like actual students, rather than relegated to portables on other campuses.

    “We’re going to build a culture at the new school that will help students feel like they’re all part of one school,” Crisman said.

    It looks like they succeeded. Barker Creek Community School students walked through their school’s doors for the first time last September.

    “I absolutely love it,” said Izabela, a student at the school.

    Last June was their first graduation ceremony, held at the Newlife Training Center in Silverdale. It was the most well-attended alternative school graduation in the district’s history.

    Ivi Gabales is an associate and business development manager at Rice Fergus Miller. While she has left architectural design in favor of the business side of the practice, she still involves herself in technical research and enjoys developing project narratives.

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