After a delay of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ribbon-cutting for the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School was held May 1, 2022, on Southern’s campus, spotlighting a signature partnership that may serve as a national model by highlighting best practices and promoting educational innovation.
“We are living in a society of deep structural divides with severe achievement gaps and debilitating attitudes towards education that our children begin to hear at young ages,” said Stephen Hegedus, dean of the College of Education. “This impacts the passion and creativity of our children and ultimately threatens the social and economic fabric of our local society.
“Our partnership aims to be a groundbreaking effort to tackle these challenges head on, to reform education and to make a concerted effort that will impact the lives of many children and families in New Haven,” Hegedus said, addressing about 100 guests at the Obama School auditorium.
Designed with the latest educational advances in mind, the Obama Magnet University School had originally opened on Farnham Avenue on Jan. 7, 2020. By March 13 of that year, both the school and the university had temporarily shuttered their buildings and were moving to remote/online learning in response to the onset of the pandemic. semester. But while students — both elementary age and Southern education majors — had worked in the new building for only a few months, the potential had already been demonstrated, and it’s a win-win for all involved.
For Southern students, the Obama School provides an opportunity for all-important experiential learning. The elementary school’s students and their teachers, in turn, benefit through additional support in the classroom from student-teachers and field workers — as well as the experience of Southern’s staff and faculty.
“The joining of public higher education and public elementary education that we are witnessing here is particularly noteworthy, as partnerships like this more regularly occur in the private sphere,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “And for Southern, this is an excellent way to further our time-honored mission of access, and expand our campus-wide commitment to social justice.”
With New Haven Schools Superintendent Iline Tracey (who holds six degrees from Southern) serving as master of ceremonies, the ribbon-cutting program included remarks by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker; Obama School Principal Jamie Baker; and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, D-5, a 2005 SCSU alumna and the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. The Obama School choir and SCSU Steppin’ Up Drill Team entertained the audience.
All the youngsters in attendance received Owlets – the school mascot – and President Bertolino encouraged them to one day take the next step and become fully fledged Owls by attending Southern.
“We look forward to our continued collaboration with our Elm City partners and to Southern students helping to educate generations of ‘Young Scholars’ at Barack Obama Magnet University School,” Bertolino said.
The Obama School — formerly known as the Strong 21st Century Communications Magnet School — has evolved dramatically over many years. About six years ago, aided by grant funding, it became a magnet school with an educational focus on communications, technology, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Designed to educate close to 500 students, the Obama School is the first New Haven school that teaches early education on a university’s campus, as it serves pre-K through fourth grade. Looking forward, three preschool classrooms will be added, bringing 60 three- and four-year-old children into the fold.
The school is designed so that sunlight streams into all interior spaces. A multistory, outside STEM room is lined with windows to stream light into the interior, including the cafeteria. Most classrooms are situated to provide views of West Rock and the surrounding forest of 200-plus-year-old trees. Cozy, built-in seating is located outside of classrooms, providing an ideal spot for tutors to work with students who might need additional support. There are dedicated music and art rooms as well as a STEM resource laboratory.
A sensory room houses a ball pit, trampoline, and other activities, for students who need a physical outlet or support. There is a gym with basketball hoops — and an age-appropriate playground is adjacent to an outside STEM classroom with space for growing plants.
The building also is designed with Southern students and faculty in mind. A centrally located Faculty Innovation Lab visually demonstrates the school’s focus on teacher preparation.
School officials said they intentionally wanted the student-teachers to feel at home in this unique school that teaches teachers.