On Thursday, July 23, 2015, about 10 days after we traveled to Finland with 8 US educators, we put 6 questions to Rachel Rubio, a school principal in the Cherry Creek public school district near Denver, Colorado.
With Rachel and her colleagues, we visited a multi-purpose facility called ‘Kastelli’. Kastelli is a facility that has under one roof a primary school (for students aged 7-13), a secondary school (for students aged 14-16) a high school (for students aged 17-19), a library that serves these schools and the broader community simultaneously – and much more.
Kastelli is the newest and biggest school in Oulu, northern Finland. Kastelli represents an innovative physical learning environment; it is a good example of how modern spaces for creative learning can be designed and constructed to serve the needs of an entire community. See http://www.ark-l-m.fi/kastelli-multipurpose-hall-oulu-finland.html for more on this fascinating place! And have a read, below, if you’re interested to follow our conversation with Rachel:
Alterra: Rachel, thank you for agreeing to offer us your thoughts on the Kastelli School concept and its applicability in Denver. What does your vision for a multi-purpose community facility that includes your school look like?
Rachel: The biggest piece for me is that kids need a place to hang out constructively outside of school hours – for example, in a full-service community center. I fell in love with Kastelli School in Oulu, Finland precisely because it is such a place.
Alterra: How does Kastelli inspire you?
Rachel: Kastelli represents a library resource, above all, where not only kids but also their parents and grandparents may congregate over the summer or in off-hours during the school year to read, enjoy cross-generational fellowship – even exercise.
Alterra: What is your ideal conception of such a facility?
Rachel: Here in the Cherry Creek school district, I’d like to see our schools serve similarly as multi-use centers. We could offer English-language instruction to members of Denver’s immigrant communities; we could offer crisis intervention for parents, and for families with mental health challenges – the sky is the limit.
Alterra: In Cherry Creek, is a multi-use facility realistic?
Rachel: The multi-use idea is absolutely realistic; Kastelli is definitely replicable right here in Denver. We’d need to target budgeted funds creatively, with just a bit of political will and out-of-the-box thinking. As a Cherry Creek school principal, I plan to save a chunk from my existing operating budget for a summer program in which students and their parents may check out books from our school library.
Alterra: Can you think of other purposes for which the community in Cherry Creek would enjoy a multi-use facility?
Rachel: In Cherry Creek, I’d like to see kids and adults pursue individual and team sports, just as it happens at Kastelli School in Oulu.
Alterra: Whose access would be encouraged? Would economically vulnerable communities, and otherwise vulnerable communities of people, benefit – and how?
Rachel: Yes, access would be encouraged for everyone. Kastelli offers a sustainable sense of community – and security for/encouragement of its students and their families. I really do want to offer such a haven here in Cherry Creek.
Alterra: Does what you observed in Oulu shift your view on how to bring about a multi-use facility in Cherry Creek – and if so, how?
Rachel: Our visit to Kastelli School definitely shifted my thinking in that it helped me to know what’s possible here at home. I had had this vision, broadly, prior to traveling to Finland – and now I see what it can look like in practice.
Alterra: Would the shift from a single-use school facility to a multi-use community facility, centered on your school, affect your students’ academic achievement – and if so, how/why? Could such a shift ultimately affect your students’ more general success in life (i.e., as happy, well-adjusted teens/young adults)?
Rachel: I believe that converting our schools into multi-use facilities can help kids gain confidence by increasing their access to those non-academic, co-curricular options at which they excel. This will be especially important to those in our midst who are vulnerable economically. Offering such a publicly-funded resource to low-income students and their families for free levels the playing field; it narrows our wide income disparities in Cherry Creek district. One or more schools as multi-use facilities here in Cherry Creek would help to create equality of opportunity!