Uncommon commons

Students find a place to unite in the new Kewpie commons area
Thursday, September 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Students stroll beneath large stone archways lining the west side of the building that at the same time looks both modern and ancient. They select from a number of thick glass doors, all leading into the air-conditioned comfort of a nearly finished 24,322-square-foot addition at Hickman High School.

“Home of the Kewpies” etched in stone above the main entryway lets them know they are still at Hickman, despite the new environment and cooler temperatures.

The exterior preserves the original 1927 construction, down to the crimson roof and the herringbone design in the bricks over the main archway. Inside, a spacious, modern multipurpose area provides breathing room, additional cafeteria space and technological amenities in one of Missouri’s largest high schools.

The $5.6 million addition is part of a continuing renovation plan at Hickman. Next on the list are classroom renovations and air conditioning for the entire building.

New enthusiasm

Hickman Principal Wanda Brown said the new addition has changed the atmosphere of the school.

“Three times as many students are staying on campus for lunch. Now that they actually have a comfortable, inviting place to eat, they love it,” Brown said. She said downtown merchants had been asking where all the Hickman kids were.

Katie McInvale, a senior considering a career in broadcast journalism, said this year is the first that she has chosen to stay at Hickman for lunch.

“Hickman is so big, you don’t get to see your friends that often; now more people stick around during lunch,” McInvale said. “Students get together more often, and the school feels more unified.”

Brown believes consulting students and faculty significantly shaped development of the addition, which also houses 6,300 square feet of new administrative offices. That area includes two conference rooms and security offices.

David Hasseldahl, also a senior at Hickman, said he appreciates the comfort of the commons area.

“It certainly gives all of the students a place to feel comfortable, hang out with friends and escape from school without actually leaving the building,” Hasseldahl said.

Hasseldahl is a member of the Latin club, which will host the Junior Classical League’s state convention in the new commons area. His only criticism of the addition is that it looks a little like Rock Bridge High School, but he said that will change soon with the personal touches Hickman artists will add to the ceiling and walls.

The top floor

The second floor of the addition is the new home of the foreign language department, save for one language, the ancient and often unappreciated Latin class, which still meets in the old section of Hickman.

Among the seven new classrooms is a state-of-the-art foreign language lab equipped with flat-screen computer terminals at each station and a three-dimensional object projector. Spanish teacher Ginny Huckla is eager to use the new lab.

“Now students can easily access Spanish-speaking newspapers and periodicals like El Pais, but they cannot access Web sites unapproved by the teacher,” Huckla said.

Teachers can see what each student is viewing without leaving their desks and they have the ability to lock out Internet access. Huckla believes the language lab’s new features could attract more students.

Columbia Public Schools' cable-access channel also calls the second floor of the addition home. Students can use two new editing stations —located within the new classroom and funded by the District Information Technology Services — for news stories and yearbook production.

McInvale said the new room lacks the character of the old station, but that will come with time. She is producing a music video for the cross-country team, which could air on the new big screen television planned for the commons area. The TV could display highlights from extracurricular activities, stories from the cable channel and after-school films for classes and organizations, said Doug Mirts, assistant principal of activities and athletics.

Students can already surf the Web or check e-mail if they have their own laptops to plug into “hotwired” stations bordering the addition. Soon, even those without laptops will be able to access the Web on permanent computer stations.

How it came together

In the past few years, teachers in small focus groups discussed their visions for the new commons. Student government and student focus groups were also consulted before the first bricks were laid.

“Many of the kids asked for benches so they could talk and hang out in large groups, so we installed some benches throughout the area,” Mirts said.

Assistant Principal Greg Grupe said the addition is an investment in students’ futures.

“When kids feel valued they make stronger efforts to excel,” Grupe said. “This addition sends a message to the students here that the community is behind them.”

Bob Nolke, former principal of Hickman, helped conceive the first plans for the development. He’s delighted with the way it turned out.

“The credit has to go the voters of the community, who had voted for the future in 2000 and believed in the potential of the students who will attend Hickman and other schools in the district,” Nolke said.

Numerous extracurricular organizations have plans for the new area, including Amnesty International, cheerleaders and the Speak Your Mind open forum. Members of the community at large can also reserve the new addition for meetings and conventions by consulting the business office.

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