FAIR OAKS RANCH — The inaugural year has finished at the new cutting-edge Van Raub Elementary School, with teachers “taking it to the next level” when doors open again Aug. 14, officials said.
Not only did the institution provide learners with the latest technology, but students also interacted with the community by mixing academic lessons with real-world projects ranging from animal care to food drives, educators said.
During its initial go-round, Van Raub created a “fantastic” learning environment, according to Boerne Independent School District Superintendent Thomas Price.
“When you walk through those halls you see smiles, you hear noise, and it’s because everyone is coming together and enjoying themselves and making education the way it should be,” Price said.
Principal Jamie Robinson agrees.
“I’m already smiling thinking about it (academic year 2019-2020) because this year really just came together,” Robinson said. “We’re already unified. We know the expectations and our goals and the district’s goals, and we can see where we’re going with it. We’re all excited.”
The campus opened Aug. 20, 2018, with 720 students. By the end of the spring semester, attendance increased to 772.
Educators said they gave pupils room to be creative through innovative techniques and real-life examples.
Since the first day he was named principal, Robinson felt the school enjoyed widespread community support.
“I feel thankful to be here,” he said. “I feel thankful for all the staff, students and families, because it wouldn’t have happened without everyone’s support.”
District officials noted the school uses up-to-date technology and tools to craft a 21st-century educational experience.
Learners are able to work in “flex-spaces” featuring movable furniture and chairs, along with Smart Boards. Each child also has access to a Google Chromebook.
“We wanted to align our instructional practices to leverage engagement with both the school facility and our technology,” the principal said.
Project Based Learning, where students collaborate on real-world tasks to integrate classroom lessons, was a game changer, according to Robinson.
Schoolchildren partnered to develop initiatives benefiting the neighborhood, while also receiving hands-on instruction in math, social studies and more.
As part of their PBL, Van Raub first-graders chose to feed the homeless, collecting and donating a half-ton of food to Hill Country Daily Bread Ministries. They visited the food bank and discovered how items are stocked and distributed to the needy.
Meanwhile, fourth-graders heard a presentation from the Boerne Animal Shelter, discussing budgeting and the expenses of caring and feeding strays. Complementing the lesson, teachers tied in math tables and working with numbers. From there, students collected food, leashes, bowls, treats and brushes for the shelter.
“They gave back to the community and they learned about what they were supposed to in math through an experience,” Robinson said.
Price noted staff and teachers will continue to emphasize PBL practices, adding more technology without ignoring fundamental academic building blocks.
“I think it is a way that we’re moving towards, because if you look throughout our district, we’re very strong with our basic math, reading and writing,” the superintendent said. “This is a way of taking that and taking it to the next level.”
Van Raub is a pacesetter for BISD’s other new campuses, administrators said.
Herff Elementary School and Voss Middle School will both open this fall with similar features.
Whole Brain Teaching, another fresh Van Raub initiative, provided educators with different techniques for peaceful classrooms.
One more idea, Genius Hour, allowed students to participate in a club on Fridays by taking a deep dive into a subject. Organizations added during the 2018-2019 academic cycle included Russian, crochet, cooking, coding, sign language, raising the school’s chickens, Raubotics (robotics), art, music, research, sports, scrapbooking, dance, the Kindness Club, yearbook and more.
“Everything aligns. It’s not just all this different programming,” said Assistant Principal Matt Whyte. “We’re taking what we have and we’re piecing them together as best as we can where kids don’t want to miss school, staff doesn’t want to miss work, and the kids really get something out of it.”
Going forward, Robinson thinks teachers and staff have “ironed out the wrinkles.”