Next year, high school freshmen in Cabot will have a new building for their classes, and administrators are excited about the progress of the construction thus far.
“We are so far ahead of schedule,” said Harold Jeffcoat, deputy superintendent for the school district. “Our goal was to build this in a 24-month time frame. We’re 22 months in and could be done in two weeks if we had to press it.”
The Cabot Freshman Academy will serve two main purposes: It will free up room in the junior high schools and provide a smooth passage for freshmen between junior high and high school.
“We wanted this to be different from junior high, but we also wanted it to be a good transition for the students,” Jeffcoat said.
The school consists of three buildings: a main building, a fine-arts building and a career and technology building. “We’re hoping, eventually, we could move some of the classes from the high school to this career-tech building,” Jeffcoat said.
Tanya Spillane, Cabot Freshman Academy principal, said many of the decisions about the new building came from meeting with student, teacher and parent groups. One example is in the media center, where the study tables are equipped with outlets for students to charge their phones.
“That’s what kids want,” Spillane said. “To a kid, that’s their lifeline.”
Another suggestion being taken under consideration is in regard to the bell between classes. Students suggested replacing the typical bell sound with songs, and Spillane said she is willing to look into making that a reality.
Building a new school allowed the district to implement innovative features in classrooms, such as retractable walls connecting some classrooms, and “Jack and Jill” science labs with storage between them.
“The retractable wall is new for us,” Jeffcoat said. “We have much more flexibility with this to bring in speakers and combine classes for certain activities.”
On the technology front, the school will have full Wi-Fi, Chromebooks and iPads in classrooms, and 175 70-inch televisions in classrooms, halls and the cafeteria.
Spillane said the televisions in the hallways will be used for announcements and recognitions.
Students have requested that ESPN be shown in the cafeteria, and teachers will be able to use the in-classroom televisions to mimic a teenager’s preference for tablets and personal computers.
“Moving from a SMART Board concept to the television is really exciting,” Jeffcoat said. “The SMART Board makes sense with the younger kids, but the television is better suited for the high-schoolers.”
Ultimately, Spillane said, all of the bells and whistles go toward one goal: increasing graduation rates.
The No. 1 challenge students have identified in the junior high schools is having too many tests on one day.
“They said they go four days without any tests and then have all of their tests on the same day,” Spillane said.
The teachers at the freshman academy will be in teams so they can coordinate when they are making major assignments and giving tests in an attempt to spread things out for students.
“The students won’t know they are in teams,” Spillane said, “but the teachers will be so they can help the kids out.”
In August, between 840 and 880 students are expected to walk through the doors of the academy to start classes as freshmen. The new school has plenty of room, plus room to spare at this point, with about 14 empty classrooms ready to take on potential growth in the next few years.
“We know that we are going to continue to grow, but with this building, we should be good for a while,” Jeffcoat said. “This also does create a lot of space in the junior highs, and we are equally excited about what we’re going to be doing in those schools.”
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.