Avalon school settles into new digs

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Like their University Avenue neighbors, Avalon School is coping with being in the midst of the Central Corridor light-rail system now under construction. School officials say they’ve managed with the noise and daunting traffic jams.

In fact, the school, which includes students in grades seven through 12, pulled off a move of the whole school from its one-time location fronting University to its new location just off Myrtle Avenue to the southwest. The sojourn was finished in time for the start of the 2011–12 school year in September.

Avalon held a celebration Oct. 12 to mark the switch to the new, well-insulated building that now is home. Carrie Bakken, the school’s program coordinator, said the new building is designed around project-based learning. “The builders are up for an award for their design,” she said.

The school, located at 700 Glendale St., is just one block east of Raymond Avenues. “Our front door is on Glendale,” Bakken said. “Glendale does not go through to University so you must get there via Raymond or Pelham and then to Myrtle, which is one block south of University.”

The project-based school is built around individualized learning plans, student-initiated projects, small student-centered seminars, public presentations and multidisciplinary senior-thesis projects, Bakken said. Avalon’s project-based learning has replaced conventionally structured classes and grade levels. The school offers post-secondary enrollment options to enable Avalon students to pursue college-level courses and credit at local colleges and universities.

The most distinctive feature of Avalon is the lack of traditional classes and grade levels, Bakken said. Instead of giving students a class schedule to follow throughout the day, students are assigned to multi-age “advisories.” Nearly 200 students are enrolled for 2011–12. With 20 faculty and staff members, the advisor-to-student ratio is one to 18.

The seventh- and eighth-grade program is modeled after the program developed for high school students: personalized learning, academic excellence, respectful and safe community, authentic learning, belief in social justice and life-long learning.

Harvey T. Rockwood is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.