Modernization of AISD schools proves vital

Emily Vernon

Austin Independent School District’s 89.7 percent high school graduation rate is one of the highest in the country, and students in the district consistently exceed the national SAT and ACT averages. But excellence comes with a price. To keep our local school district at the top, we must continue to invest in modernized classrooms and avoid stagnation. Such is the goal of AISD’s $1.1 billion bond proposal.

The bond admittedly comes with sticker shock, but AISD officials promise that its passage won’t increase property taxes. While the money will go toward issues such as campus security, transportation and revival of dilapidated campuses, the majority of it will help address schools’ 21st century needs, including campus upgrades and reconstruction in the name of modernization — concepts that can’t be ignored if we wish our students to continue succeeding in such high numbers. 

“Modernized learning spaces” is a relatively broad term, but it essentially means any space that reflects current pedagogy practices. Right now, those spaces are built with technology, collaboration and strengths-based teaching in mind. If you’ve stepped on the UT campus recently, chances are you’ve seen what this looks like.

Take the Learning Commons in the Perry-Castaneda Library, for example. The Learning Commons —  which includes the Digital Media Lab, the University Writing Center and Learning Labs — was unveiled in 2015. Since then, it has proven a vital space for students, giving us clean workspaces with the technology and tools for collaborative and innovative work that we don’t get on the silent floor of the library or at a coffee shop. We attend a school of 50,000 students and our classes often require more than just a pen and paper — a sharp divergence from the past.

Alice Batt, assistant director of the UWC, was involved in the creation of the Learning Commons. Before the UWC’s location in the PCL, it was housed in a 1,500 square foot room that was noisy and often brimming with students. To modernize the new location, reduced distraction rooms were created to better serve students with learning disabilities and better lighting was installed. Batt said she no longer sees students who have strong seating preferences because the entire space is more inviting thanks to a combination of natural and installed lighting. 

Additionally, she noted the Learning Commons’ 24-hour opening. 

“It allows students to feel like they have a certain amount of possession over the space. It’s been remarkable to see how students have taken over these spaces and made them their own.”

Those in charge of the Learning Commons understood that to make a truly modernized learning space, they couldn’t just throw new technology into a room and call it done. Such a space extends beyond technology — hence why “modernization” and “technology” are separate categories in AISD’s proposal. Once again, we can look at the Learning Labs for an example of this. Batt said she often comes into work in the morning to see students working on complex problems together using the white boards. This type of collaboration wouldn’t manifest in the same way using pen and paper, yet it has become an integral aspect of the professional world.

We’ve seen the success of modernized learning spaces on the UT campus, so it’s time Austinites afford the same necessities to AISD students. While high school is obviously different from college in many different ways, teaching pedagogy often transcends age and usually reflects current workforce patterns. To better prepare students for the ever-ominous “real world” they’re so often reminded of, we must afford them the necessary tools, which means more than just pen and paper. Modernization will enhance the experience of AISD students, many of whom attend a school that’s 40 years to 100 years old, allowing them to complete assignments as directed with greater ease and allow teachers to better adapt their curriculums to students’ needs. This bond is a necessity. 

Vernon is an anthropology and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @_emilyvernon_.