COLUMBIA — A group of Hickman High School sophomores crowded against a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, snapping photos of Battle High School’s new football field with their smartphones.
"It’s like 'High School Musical,'" Hickman sophomore Haley Gardner said of the school’s cafeteria, which overlooks the field.
The Hickman students toured their new high school in late April, led by Battle principal Kim Presko. School administrators have assembled student leadership and advisory committees as part of their initiative to connect students with Battle. However, the tours gave Battle’s first graduating class its first glimpse of what to expect next year.
"We can plan and involve the kids all we want, but actually getting them here, that's what we've been waiting for," said Andrew McCarthy, an assistant principal at Battle who is wrapping up the year as assistant principal at Hickman. "We want to connect each kid to something that gets them excited to go beyond just high school."
Students react to the campus
As they walked through the building, students paused to take pictures of each other on empty bleachers in the gym and in front of vacant trophy cases.
They were at ease with the technology they will use on a daily basis. Every Battle student will be issued an iPad Mini as part of the district’s plan to incorporate more technology into schools.
"Many students are acting as a college student does, where devices are their complete organizational tools," Superintendent Chris Belcher said when the Columbia Public School Board approved the policy at its April 8 meeting.
The district will also provide wireless Internet access in all its buildings, and students will be able to use personal devices, such as cell phones, for class work.
"We're in a technology age, so it makes sense they want us to be more in tune with technology," Hickman sophomore John Hiley said.
The building has a modern, open feel, which students compared to a mall or a college campus.
"It feels different from any other school," Hickman sophomore Mahamed Nour said. "It feels like college."
Rock Bridge sophomore Dustin Duff could not attend a tour at Battle but has heard about it from friends.
"The first thing everyone says is either 'big' or 'beautiful,' and that always sounds good to me," he said.
Duff is one of 45 Rock Bridge students who will transfer to Battle next year, according to district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark. Almost 300 will transfer from Hickman, and eight from Douglass High School.
The majority of Battle students will come from junior high schools, with 526 coming from Oakland Junior High alone; 164 will come from Jefferson Junior High, and 12 students from West Junior High School.
Duff said he was initially disappointed about transferring schools.
"I've been given most of a school year to get attached to my teachers and Rock Bridge, so I was attached to that," he said. "I see it now as more of an opportunity."
Gardner, who lives near Battle, has been driving by the site since it was an empty plot. She has known she would be transferring from Hickman to Battle for several months.
"It was hard at first, but seeing it makes me want to go here," Gardner said. "I’m so excited now."
As she toured the school with Hickman sophomore Najla Guice, both girls agreed the facility was worth the hassle of transferring schools.
"Hopefully people value how nice it is and want to keep it nice," Guice said.
Spartan Leadership Team
For some students, the April tours were not the first time they had been in the Battle building. They are members of Battle’s Spartan Leadership Team: about 30 students, as of late April, from Jefferson, Oakland, West, Hickman and Rock Bridge.
"There have been various times where we really needed some student input, but we didn’t have anyone to turn to because they’re not in the building yet," said Leigh Spence, director of Battle’s guidance department.
A Student Leadership Committee made up of 10 faculty members decided to form the Spartan Leadership Team to help administrators with decision-making, lead tours and serve as role models for their fellow students
"We identified some needs where we really needed some students to step up," Spence said. "There were some hoops to jump through, so they had to stick with it in order to be selected."
Students sent in paper applications and teacher references, then had one-on-one and group interviews. Spence said the committee’s goal was to accept as many students as possible, and the majority of applicants made the team.
"We were really interested in having a student leadership group that was representative of our student body, so that it wasn’t just one type of student, but that kids could look at them and see themselves represented," Spence said.
Gillian Schulte, an eighth-grader at Oakland, said she is excited to build school culture for future Battle students.
"Everyone behind me that gets the full experience of Battle will do everything the leadership team shapes," she said. "We’re making a difference."
This summer, the team will attend a 10-day summer school session at which they will learn about leadership development, giving tours and speaking to the media about Battle. Jill Villasana, who will teach in the social studies department at Battle, will lead the class. Villasana is a former MU Summer Welcome leader, and some aspects of the Spartan Leadership Team are modeled after the university’s summer welcome program, Spence said.
"I’m really excited to see the leadership development piece of it — to watch them go from learning the skills to actually practicing the skills as we get all of our students in the building," Spence said.
She said the students are using their experiences at different schools to form new traditions.
"It’s fun to watch them blend their ideas together to turn them in to a Battle way of doing things," Spence said.
Shirey Samuels, a sophomore at Hickman, was selected for the team and has been working with other students.
"We talk a lot about creating our own traditions, not borrowing from Rock Bridge and Hickman," she said. "We're making our own Battle family. We get to decide what we want Battle to be."
Schulte said she is proud to be one of the youngest members of the Spartan Leadership Team. Her class will be the first to attend Battle for four years.
"I’m excited that we’ll basically be at the front line of the new school and that we’ll be the voice of the students at Battle," she said.
In addition to the Spartan Leadership Team, Presko has formed a principal’s advisory group, which works directly with her. The group includes members of the leadership team as well as students Presko knows from her time working at Oakland.
Kyra Miller, a sophomore at Hickman, is a member of both groups and is excited to lead next year at Battle.
"I want to make it an environment that people feel like they can be a part of," Miller said. "Great things are going to happen here."
Students can initially find Battle’s large size overwhelming, Spence said.
However, during the tours, it looked like students were finding aspects of the building and connecting to it that way.
Guice, who runs track and field, commented on the upper level indoor track in the gym. At Hickman, she said, they always run outside.
Hiley, who plays the baritone, noticed the second level of the band room, which has individual practice rooms.
"I'm excited for band, the practice rooms especially," he said. "The band really helps to build a culture."
In the career center, students toured classrooms dedicated to courses including culinary arts, welding, engineering, digital media and broadcast journalism. Samuels, who wants to be a chef, will take her first culinary class at Battle.
"After high school, I want to go to Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school in St. Louis," Samuels said. "I want to always be able to come back to Battle and be, like, this is where it started."
Kyra Moss, a Hickman sophomore, wants to be in the first musical at Battle. She was excited about the 750-seat performing arts center.
"I didn't want to leave Hickman because of the traditions they have in theater," she said. "But Battle will be here for forever, and I want to be remembered. I want to help create traditions, so people won't want to leave Battle."