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A Vision for a Multi Purpose School: Conversation with Rachel Rubio, School Principal, Cherry Creek District, Colorado

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 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!

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