In an early episode of America to Me, the immensely talented English teacher, Jessica Stovall, leads her OPRF class through a brief role play: five students act out physical ailments, from headache to shark bite. Stovall, playing doctor, prescribes all five the exact same remedy. Her outraged class protests that aspirin might be fine for a headache, but won’t stop bleeding. And that, she replies, is the difference between equality and equity: Equality provides the same for everyone, while equity provides each individual what they need in order to be successful.
Throughout the past year, the Imagine OPRF team looked through an equity lens at the entire facility. Does each space serve all students, we asked, and deliver to each child those things they need in order to succeed? We challenged each other to keep equity front and center while translating identified needs into actionable solutions.
The master plan Imagine presented the District 200 school board, Sept. 11, advances equity through dozens of specific improvements. Here are a few:
The Family and Consumer Science Department’s culinary arts program prepares students for real-world jobs in commercial kitchens. OPRF and Triton’s dual-credit program gives our students a head start toward the degree that will help land one of those jobs. Yet our current commercial kitchen space is nearly non-functioning. Imagine’s master plan relocates this space, and creates a new hybrid commercial/domestic kitchen classroom — the most cost-effective, space-efficient option that will better prepare students for careers in culinary arts.
The science classrooms, located in the original part of the building, were designed for instruction as it occurred a century ago. Many are not fully accessible for students with mobility impairments, and do not allow for student-centered learning, which the curriculum requires. Many labs are both insufficiently ventilated and chaotically organized. Imagine’s master plan calls for the complete renovation of the science labs, to bring them up to 21st-century standards, make them fully accessible, and provide that segment of students who may go on to college science study the best chance of success.
Over 600 OPRF students had IEPs last school year. One of the most vulnerable segments of students receiving special education services, those with profound disabilities, are served through the TEAM program. TEAM facilities are not near an accessible bathroom. A TEAM student who uses a wheelchair may miss an entire class period to travel with an aide to and from an adequate bathroom facility. The master plan relocates the TEAM space to adjoining rooms, makes the new space ADA accessible, places an ADA accessible bathroom within the TEAM space itself, and installs two new elevators that can be easily accessed by those using wheelchairs.
Sound production classes are among the fastest-growing in the school, and reach students at risk of dropping out of school to draw them back into the school community. The plan calls for expansion of sound production via flexible class space in order to meet program demand, without sacrificing future unplanned needs.
Perhaps Imagine’s most transformative proposal is a new central student commons, a welcoming space for students which enhances OPRF’s security. An overwhelming number of students — particularly students of color — voiced their preference to stay, study, collaborate and socialize rather than to be pushed out of the school at the end of the day.
These are just a few examples. There are many more improvements in Imagine’s master plan. To learn more, visit ImagineOPRF.org, and attend Imagine’s Community Conversation on Oct. 3.
Audrey Williams-Lee and Tim Brandhorst are members of the Imagine OPRF work group.