At Humboldt’s Taft, addition makes room for art and science

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Aiden Stringer, left, and Brewster Miller along with other third graders read at the new library at Taft Elementary School in Humboldt. The library is part of a new addition along with a new TAG room, new music room, art room, and a STEM room for the school.

HUMBOLDT — Work was completed over the summer on some much-needed additions to Taft Elementary School.

Teachers are happy to have the space they need to have music, art, and even their special math/science/engineering classes without having to walk outside across the road, Superintendent Greg Darling said.

“We love the new addition,” Taft Principal George Bruder said. “We were pretty crammed in before. Just to have a meeting, we had to make special accommodations and change schedules.”

It’s all part of the district’s facility plan, which guides what the district will do with its buildings up to 2030, said Darling.

“We have finished our $2 million addition to Taft Elementary,” he said. “The purpose was to add more classrooms, which were much-needed, to add an art room, a media center, a music room, a TAG room, a conference room, and also we restructured some of the other classrooms to make it more efficient.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Third grade students walk through the entryway from the new addition into the older portion of Taft Elementary. The addition was completed this year, and provides much-needed classroom space so that students don't have to walk outside across the street for music class.

Throughout the building, worn-out carpet has been replaced with a sleek faux wood flooring, Bruder said. The students now have lockers, where before there were open cubbies and hooks.

The media center/library holds a plethora of reading materials for young minds, and features some special soft seating — manufactured locally.

“Hadar Manufacturing in town here, they do athletic equipment, tackling dummies. So we went to them and said, it’s the same thing, just cut them down a little bit,” Bruder said.

The tackling dummy template yielded short soft benches which have proved pretty popular, he said.

“It’s pretty cool to see the boys and girls sitting on them with books, reading.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Assistant Principal Greg Thomas shows how the hallway ends up being used as storage space currently, emphasizing the need for the high school's new $600,000 addition.

Along with “special” classes like art, music, and physical education, there is a special class for students as young as first grade to study STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

The school was built in 1954, with an addition in 1958, Bruder said; it was time for a change.

At the high school, a $600,000 addition is wrapping up as well, Darling said. This added new restrooms near the gym, increasing handicap accessibility, and adding a diaper changing station for visiting families.

It also provides a larger women’s restroom, said High School Principal Lori Westerhoff.

“When the gym is full, two women’s restrooms for 1,500 people just isn’t quite enough,” she said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Assistant Principal Greg Thomas shows how the flats for shows are currently stored behind the stage, where it's difficult to get them up and down safely. Once the new addition to the high school is finished these will be placed in the new storage space.

A good amount of storage space was also added to help out the music and drama departments.

“The plan was twofold,” Assistant Principal Greg Thomas said, showing a hallway full of music equipment. “One was the lack of restroom space for the gymnasium. And the other was, this is the only backstage area we have. So all of that stuff that’s usually in the hallway, is going to find a home now.”

The old middle school, across the road from Taft Elementary, was once where students went for those art and music classes. Now that the addition is complete, the old building can be partially demolished, Darling said.

“We have plans to demolish part of it and save the better area,” he said. “We’re going to save the gym, the alpha area, the music room, and knock down the other part of the building.”

Another thing working well for the Humboldt Community School District is its partnership with the Twin Rivers community School District, Darling said.

“We share different programs,” he said. “We share our teacher leadership. We do professional development together. And when we have different speakers, or different activities, we would go back and forth and share.”

The students are achieving well, when it comes to assessments, Darling said.

“Our students are doing a really good job with test scores,” he said. “Five out of the last seven years we have been above the state average for ACT scores.

“A big part of that is our AIW. Our authentic intellectual work. … (It) really pushes the students to think conceptually.”

However, proper testing is one of the challenges facing schools today, Darling said.

“I don’t think there’s a true assessment that measures what you really want to measure,” he said.

Another challenge is helping students know what they actually want to do after they graduate.

“Middle school is doing a lot of different exploratories, so that the students can look,” he said. “Another thing that’s kind of unique is we have a jobs program. Our jobs program works with Humboldt Economic Development, and we try to place different students in positions they want to be in.”

Students interested in veterinary work can go and see what a day looks like for a vet, for example.

And starting earlier, the elementary schools work with business partners to expose the children to more career options — like electrician, engineer, contractor — to help them think beyond the familiar job choices.

Another challenge is preparing students in a digital age.

“I think one of our biggest challenges is social interaction, being a good digital citizen,” Darling said.

That includes treating people right over social media, knowing what to believe when they read it on the internet, and how to interact with people outside of digital media, he said.

“That’s what a digital citizen is … They’re not believing false information, they’re really looking and doing research,” he said.