By EMILY RAMSEY
ON SCHEDULE: Union Schools Project Manager Lee Snodgrass stands in front of what will be the student union in the new Union Collegiate Academy. The academy is set to be completed in July and will help to accommodate the tenth graders who will move over from the Intermediate High School. The academy will also feature virtual learning and concurrent enrollment classes, a cyber cafe, a lecture hall, and demonstration wind turbines and solar panels.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Union High School students will soon find the college experience within their high school walls.
Construction began on the Union Collegiate Academy at the beginning of 2010 and is nearing completion with new columns installed on July 9. The impressive, elegant columns grace the new entrance of the High School and will be part of the new alumni center.
The building has three floors and is 125,000 square feet. “The building is modeled after what students will see in college,” says Lee Snodgrass, executive director of project management. It will feature a student union, cyber café, lecture room, and classrooms including those for concurrent enrollment classes with Tulsa Community College and virtual learning classes.
Two virtual classrooms are found on the first floor. Virtual classes allow students to work independently but still with teacher support. “The district made the effort not to throw kids into this without any help; that’s why teachers will be available in classrooms designated as virtual classrooms,” says Snodgrass.
Students can sign up for concurrent enrollment in classes and receive both high school and college credit.
“What we are seeing happening is that some entering freshmen are not graduating college maybe because they are not understanding what to expect,” says Snodgrass. “They are not used to the rigors of college courses; they are used to the structure of high school and can’t handle the freedom of college.
“These course options better allow students to go through the process and see if they are ready for college.”
Union’s virtual and concurrent classes will allow students more time outside of class that administrators hope they will spend in the building. There will be comfortable seating areas for studying on all three floors.
In addition to the high school’s cafeteria, five new eating options will be available, including a deli and a market that will feature Oriental, Mexican, Italian and American food.
The academy’s second floor will have 19 classrooms, and the third floor will hold three general classrooms, nine science classrooms and a large biotechnology classroom.
Biotechnology is the science of using living organisms to make products, including drugs, hormones and genetically-altered bacteria. Union administrators hope that its program will “funnel students into TCC’s biotech program,” Snodgrass says.
The academy’s new classrooms will help to make room for the 1,100 sophomores being added to the campus starting with the 2012-13 school year.
Moving the tenth grade to the high school will allow the intermediate school to become a ninth grade center only—a growing trend throughout the country.
“That age group needs specialized opportunities,” says Snodgrass. “Ninth grade is the age when many decide to drop out. We want to give them added attention.”
The academy will also feature an Advanced Placement environmental science classroom. It will include outdoor solar panels, wind turbines, rain barrels and a green roof for student observation. There will also be an outdoor classroom for student and teacher use and an outdoor green space.
“We want it to be an easy step to college for our students; we don’t want them to feel intimidated,” says School Superintendent Cathy Burden. “Sometimes senior year is looked at as a blow off year. But we want students to take that last year to polish their skills and get a head start on college.
“Developmentally, students are not ready to go to college at 17,” she says, “but, if we keep them in the confines of high school and get them the stimulation of college and the credits, they can receive the academic stimulation of college with the structure and social benefits at the high school level.”
Construction recently began on additions to the Sixth and Seventh Grade Center’s fine arts department. The department will receive four new band rooms and two vocal rooms. The school’s pool will be remodeled with new equipment. Builders expect it to be finished by the end of 2012. The Ninth Grade Center is starting construction on a new tennis complex to be ready for play in fall 2013.