How Carol Stream school created an Innovation Center
Sandy McCall began the tour with one instruction for the curious students at Roy DeShane Elementary.
"Don't try to look at everything at one time," McCall said as she introduced them to the school's new Innovation Center.
An educator for 30 years in Carol Stream Elementary District 93, McCall knew it was easy to be overwhelmed by the transformation of the old library at Roy DeShane. She was herself.
"It's just a great opportunity for our students," she said. "They're so lucky to have this space and to be learning in this kind of environment."
This space, renovated in a roughly $1.05 million project, no longer has the uncomfortable furniture, the harsh lighting, the sense that the school library is merely a place of quiet study. Here, students are meant to collaborate and take charge of their work.
"It's really transformational the way the centers are used," Superintendent Bill Shields said.
Elsie C. Johnson Elementary in Hanover Park opened the first Innovation Center in August 2015. Roy DeShane and Carol Stream elementary schools followed suit at the start of this school year after a summerlong remodel of the libraries (Roy DeShane also got a new, more secure entrance).
The district plans to phase in centers at the remaining schools using existing funds, Shields said.
All that begs the question: Are traditional school libraries obsolete?
Yes and no, Roy DeShane Principal Tom Doyle says.
"Certainly, we're excited about the amount of different things (students) can do in an innovation center, but the fact that we still have books here is very important," he said. "I think kids will always appreciate their traditional books, but will continue to grow academically with these opportunities with the technology."
In fact, a popular spot to crack open a hardcover is a reading nook next to new windows -- the "most child-friendly feature," said McCall, formerly the library director and now an innovation media specialist.
She also leads a book club for fourth-graders around what she calls the "camp fire," a cozy set of new ottomans surrounded by book selves.
But it's also clear that this is a digital world in the colorful room.
On a recent morning, Savanna Vari and her fifth-grade classmates produced a video about life in the pioneer days for a social studies project. They wrote the script and even used special effects, filming in front of the Innovation Center's green screen.
"I feel like I'm actually at that place and I'm not at school any more," Savanna said of the video's digital backdrop.
The fifth-graders also worked without their teacher -- a now familiar scene in the Innovation Center.
That's possible because of movable furniture that allows kids to sit in groups. With interactive screens -- installed on the walls at their height -- students can lead presentations for their peers.
"The kids are teaching themselves and learning with each other," said Kelly Ashline, an instructional coach training educators on ways to use the Innovation Center for their lessons.
McCall still sees kids trying to take it all in when they step into a room that didn't gain much space but feels more open, more inviting.
"They're so happy when they come in here," she said. "It's so much fun to see their expressions on their faces."