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Walker Elementary uses museum, mobile units during renovation

A module for Walker Elementary School sits outside the ScienceWorks museum in Ashland on October 1, 2021. Students attending the school will use the modules, dubbed “Walker Village,” for 18 months while their school is being renovated.

At the start of the month, Walker Elementary School employees feasted on ice cream and even used some spare whipped topping to throw a pie in the face of their boss, Ashland School District superintendent Sam Bogdanove.

The occasion was to celebrate all of their efforts for transitioning students into modular classrooms outside of ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, affectionately known as “Walker Village,” while the aging school is being renovated. Students will be housed there for 18 months before moving back into the new Walker.

“We’re really, really excited,” Principal Tiffany Burns said. “It’s a legacy school, so we’re building for the next 50 years.”

The renovation is part of the district’s bond program, which also made upgrades possible at Ashland Middle School and the John Muir Outdoor School; Helman Elementary School; Ashland High School and Willow Wind Learning Center.

When the renovation is complete, not only will an issue that sometimes caused Walker to lose heat be solved, but the school will have upgraded classrooms, roof, entryway, cafeteria, playground as well as an expanded courtyard.

Walker officials thought the temporary modules would be ready by the start of the academic year, but Burns said construction delays and supply chain issues pushed the move-in date back, so staff had to scramble and come up with a solution to teach classes; ScienceWorks was ready to help.

“The folks at ScienceWorks are just incredible to work with; they were so welcoming,” Burns said.

Erin Endress, executive director of ScienceWorks, said the museum was able to house students during the week because of the reductions in the museum’s hours and activities already due to the pandemic.

“We knew we didn’t have hundreds of field trips cranked up or anything, so we thought we could make it work,” Endress said.

ScienceWorks worked out a rental fee to offset the fact that it would not be open during the weekday (however, ScienceWorks hopes to announce some weekday hours in the next few days).

“It was so great to have that many kids on site and have the energy of elementary school students,” Endress said.

Burns said the school used all of the museum’s spaces. But while kindergartners were stationed in the pirate exhibit and the fifth graders were among the dinosaur replicas, museum officials made sure many things about the attractions were unavailable to them to avoid distractions.

“I think our staff is phenomenal and they can teach in a museum and a modular village,” Burns said.

Endress added that this kind of arrangement between a school and the museum has never been done before.

“It’s a first, but it’s really a win-win,” for both entities, she said.

By that she means not only does Walker get to use the museum’s property while the school is under renovation, but the museum is also looking at future collaborations with the district.

Walker Elementary moved into the “village” of modulars Sept. 30, but it still uses the outdoor portions of the museum for lunch and recess.

Ashland School District’s assistant superintendent, Erika Bare, commented on the Walker Elementary staff’s efforts to make sure students are learning during an unusual time.

“The teachers worked so hard and so tirelessly to turn a museum into a school,” she said. “It was a science museum, so it definitely took some outside-of-the-box thinking and teaching.”

Bare noted this kind of move for an Ashland district school had never happened before

“This is the first — and, I’m hoping, only — opportunity to move school twice in the first month of school,” she said.

For that alone, the staff was entitled to a little fun with an ice cream social last week.

“The Walker staff has had to move schools several times in a very short period of time, teaching in really unconventional spaces,” Bare said. “They deserve a huge ‘thank you!’ This was just a token — they deserved so much more than this.”