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WRA embraces change, growth with curriculum

Posted: September 28, 2017

by Judy Stringer


“The Excitement is Building,” proclaims a green and white banner outside the currently shuttered Seymour Hall, Western Reserve Academy’s oldest academic building. The 100-year-old Seymour Hall, off College Street, will reopen to students next fall after undergoing $14 million worth of restoration and modernization. 


“Our intent is that Seymour’s timeless, simple elegance will always remain,” said WRA Head of School Christopher Burner. “But inside the building, our students will receive a cutting-edge classical education as we undergo the single-largest transformation of our academic program in the school’s history.”


To the Hudson community, the renovation of Seymour is the most visible sign of evolution at the historic prep school. The project will increase the number of classrooms in Seymour to 29 and update 33,000 square feet of dedicated classroom space to enable what the school calls a “more progressive learning environment.”  


Some of the biggest changes, however, lie beneath the hard surfaces. 


In late August, WRA’s 400 students – most of them boarders – were greeted with a new 75-minute block schedule. Sarah Forrer, media relations manager, said the longer classes enable a deeper dive into the curriculum and give students more balance in their days. 


As part of that balance, school officials hope more time outside the classroom will be spent in its 18-month-old, 6,000-square-foot makerspace, the Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity. CTIC, on the eastern edge of campus, is home to $150 million worth of design and production technologies, including 16 computer stations loaded with professional design software, four 3-D printers, a high-powered 3-D scanner, electronic building blocks and robotics kits, a commercial-grade garment printer, metal soldering equipment and enough saws, sanders and drills to appease even the most fervent woodshop teacher.


WRA also recently became the first independent school in the region to replace Advanced Placement, or AP, classes with 23 “college-level” courses, such as cancer immunology, philosophy and digital engineering and fabrication, taught by its faculty onsite. Forrer said nationally, many private high schools have shed AP classes – often laser-focused on covering information on the AP test – in favor of courses that provide more time for critical thinking and inquiry. 


In WRA’s version of a college’s philosophy 101, for example, students will be challenged to define existence, explain how knowledge is acquired and determine how happiness is found, while also studying history’s greatest thinkers. 


In addition, the class of 2021 will be the first to take courses devoted to digital literacy. Two half-year courses anchor the program, Forrer said. In Learning to Code, freshmen learn about the digital world and the structure of digital devices as well as the societal impact of technology. In Learning to Make, students explore design, electronics, 3-D printing and the many capabilities of the CTIC.


        Geothermal systems


WRA’s ambitious 21st-century makeover comes with energy enhancements as well. Underneath the soccer fields across from Seymour Hall, borehole wells are being drilled to implement a geothermal heating and cooling system. Underground pipes will transfer heat to or from the building, pulling excess heat from Seymour Hall when temperatures are high and depositing it in the wells, and pushing the earth’s heat from the wells when temperatures drop.  


It marks the second geothermal project on campus this summer, Forrer said. The first was completed during the renovation of President’s House, the oldest building on campus, built in 1830 and recently reopened as the school’s new admissions office.


While geothermal systems reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, another benefit of embracing the renewable technology is giving students “a real-world example of environmental responsibility that students can explore and study,” Forrer said.


“This is truly an exciting year at Western Reserve Academy,” said Burner. “With our new curriculum and transformational renovations on campus, literally and figuratively we are opening new doors, strengthening our enduring commitment to excellence and to our students.”

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