This Delaware district is reinventing the way it does school
About 10 years ago, the Appoquinimink School District started plans to turn an open cornfield near Odessa into a first-of-its-kind education complex. Last month, that complex was completed, and students from kindergarten to ninth grade will be welcomed into the new buildings.
When hybrid learning begins later this month, students will begin to occupy the newly finished Fairview K-12 Campus near Odessa, unique among state public schools.
Matt Burrows, Appoquinimink School District superintendent, said his predecessor Tony Marchio had the initial vision for the K-12 campus after purchasing the land as part of the 2009 referendum.
The Old State Elementary School, grades 1-5, and Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center for kindergarten have been open on the campus since 2012.
Construction was recently finished on Cantwell’s Bridge Middle School and Odessa High School and those buildings will host students starting this month.
T.J. Vari, assistant superintendent, said sharing resources and teachers is one of the important academic advantages of the campus, especially between middle and high school. Often, eighth graders are able to get high school credit for advanced language arts, math and world language courses, but now they will be able to take those same courses alongside high-schoolers.
Although there is potential for middle-schoolers to be taking courses with high-schoolers, he doesn’t foresee any problems with mixing the age groups.
The elementary students will also be able to use the performing arts center for its productions, Vari said.
Most crossovers between the schools will be with the shared facilities, the assistant superintendent said. The middle and high schools will share a state-of-the-art performing arts center, gymnasium, labs and media center.
“When you build a middle school performing arts facility, it's different than the amenities you would put into a high school,” he said. “Because we are able to share resources, we save money from one place and money from another place, and put them together and you get an even more advanced [facility].”
Funding for the construction of Odessa High and Cantwell’s Bridge were approved in the 2016 referendum, with the state paying for 75% of the $148 million project.
When students are back in the buildings, Odessa High will open with a ninth grade class called Ninth Grade Academy. Each year, a new grade will be added until fall 2023, when grades 9-12 will be in the building.
Students who would normally attend Everett Meredith Middle School will be in Cantwell’s Bridge Middle School until construction is done at MMS in 2022.
‘Someone to look up to’
Veronica "Voni" Perrine, former assistant principal at Middletown High School, will be the principal at Odessa High School and she sees a lot of opportunities for mentorship.
“From preschool, all the way to the high school, there is this family. The little kids will see the big kids and see someone to look up to,” she said. “I think that's inspiring.”
She expects to see mentoring with projects and competitions with organizations, such as the FFA agriculture science program, where middle-schoolers will benefit from their older peers.
“[Middle-schoolers] can learn from the high school students' leadership: the expectations, the professionalism and the higher level of activity and thinking going on,” she said.
Vari said there will be many benefits to middle school students getting a peek into life in high school life before they are high-schoolers themselves.
Although many advantages come from the shared resources, Vari said the campus will offer first-hand experience for high-schoolers who are in K-12 or early childhood education pathways without having to travel across town. A pathway is the curriculum a student chooses based on what careers the student plans to pursue.
“You can imagine, you walk across the way there, and you can go into an elementary school or early childhood center,” Vari said, to learn about pathway choice.
From start to finish
Burrows is mostly looking forward to students who will start and finish their school-age years on the same campus.
“I am excited for the end it has for our students as they progress through it, having the opportunity to start on the same campus and go all the way through,” he said. “You want to establish community. When you have individual buildings, you get to establish the community at each building, but with a campus, you get to do that through all the grade levels.”
Going to school on the same campus for 13 years will have a significant impact on student pride for their schools, Vari said.
“There is a lot of research that says the longer students have access to their prior grade teachers, the more safe they feel,” he said. “That is a big deal.”
When Perrine started working for Appoquinimink School District, she said, Middletown High School was the center of the community. Now, she is hoping the Fairview Campus in Odessa will provide that same camaraderie.
“I think now we will be able to build this community, not only parents supporting kids, but neighbors and grandparents and everyone involved in the students’ educational process, but also their activities,” she said.
Because there is a preschool inside the high school, students could theoretically go to school on the Fairview Campus from 3 years old to 18 years old, Vari said.
Perrine said the graduation ceremony will be held at the football stadium on the campus.
Similar campus in the works
This will likely not be the last K-12 campus for Appoquinimink. Burrows said the district already has tentative plans for one off Summit Bridge Road, where designs for an elementary school have already begun. The latest referendum that passed in 2019 allowed for the purchase of land for the campus and new school.
“Even before the K-12 campus, you can see all of our buildings are clustered together too,” the superintendent said. “You are starting to see that as much as possible, clustering those buildings together to take advantage of the land we have.”
Appoquinimink School District has a K-8 campus on Cedar Lane, and a K-5 at Brick Mill — once construction is complete on the early childhood center — and a K-5 in Townsend.
A virtual dedication ceremony for the Fairview K-12 Campus near Odessa will take place Oct. 15 on the school district’s YouTube channel.