A New Beginning: Peterson Middle School Opens for the 2020-21 School Year

In a modern, light-filled building on Oakton Rd., the hallways and classrooms are buzzing with students. Around the corner from the lobby, students are collaborating — socially distanced — in a common area that divides the classrooms on either side of the hallway. On one side of the hall, students in Mr. Cook’s Makers class have their heads bowed over their iPads and tools as their teacher moves around the room. On the other, Mrs. Knicely is teaching one of her dynamic history classes to a group of virtual and on-campus learners. And above them, Mr. Mora Carbajo is giving a Spanish lesson in a classroom that appears to be floating above the first floor. Soon, it’s time for break, and the halls fill with students rushing outside for fresh air on the playground, turf field and expansive terrace.

Welcome to the Peterson Middle School, which, after 16 months of construction, opened its doors to students right on time in the fall. Its opening has underscored the importance of space, particularly during a pandemic. An abundance of natural light was always part of the plan, but the building’s wide-open floor plan has enabled a critical level of distancing — and comfort — for students and teachers alike. Director of the Middle School Brian Lamont shares, “I can't say I would have fully appreciated the impact of the brightness, of the natural light. I think the incredible brightness of this space and the open layout, all the things that we thought would have a positive impact on the experience of middle school students, it has had and more.”

The building has also provided a tremendous amount of flexibility to use its various spaces in ways that are needed for this moment in time. With several areas being repurposed, Lamont is grateful for the visibility and opportunities for connection that were already integrated into the building’s design. “In terms of indoor spaces, this year we're not using our project spaces the way we might in the future,” Lamont says. “But it's been incredible to have open areas in the academic classroom area, which, for this year, has allowed us to physically distance students the way we need to, but also with the glass on the central project space that they can view, they're also still connected to the classroom and still have visibility of the class and the teacher.”

Despite opening during an unusual year, the facility, and what it’s made possible for Middle School students and teachers, have exceeded expectations. “The access to the outdoor space has been maybe the biggest difference-maker, particularly for this year,” Lamont says. “For us being able to go out multiple times a day and having this huge terrace and places for kids to sit, to congregate, to interact, to be on the playground, to have access to the turf field, has been a game-changer for us.”