On Sept. 6, teachers and staff of Oak Creek Public School welcomed over 600 students to their first day of class at the region’s newest elementary school. The school, located on Tartan Ave. in the Doon South neighbourhood, is the largest elementary school project developed by the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB).
The school is a unique project designed to support the growing population in south Kitchener. In addition to the elementary school, the 80,000-square foot building is home to the new Huron Community Centre, an EarlyON Child and Family Centre and a RisingOaks Early Learning Centre that provides before- and after-school care.
Jeff Johnson became the first principal of the school in March. Johnson has spent the last seven months working with the board and school staff to prepare for the first day of school.
He said that the classrooms were designed to improve the student experience. Instead of a classroom with a teacher’s desk at the front and rows of student desks, Oak Creek’s classrooms are flexible spaces where teachers and students can interact differently based on what subject is being taught.
“There are spaces for everyone to conduct their business, to engage students in learning and to conference with students. We’re trying to maximize space for student learning,” Johnson said.
The student desks are known as flow desks and have one straight edge with the other three sides being curved edges. The design allows a teacher to group the desks in circular patterns instead of straight rows, so each student feels they are part of the group rather than at the end of a row.
“All the desks can be moved around and put into any number of shapes based on what’s working in the classroom,” Johnson said.
Other classroom features include large flat screen televisions instead of projectors and screens and lowered whiteboards for students to engage with during their lessons. The traditional reading area on a carpet has also been replaced with sport flooring, similar to what you find in a gymnasium. Johnson said these new classroom features offer an opportunity to look at how classrooms have been used and to see if there is a better way to use the space.
“It gives us an opportunity to flip the script. It’s not the teacher necessarily putting all their posters on the whiteboard and taking up the space for teacher use. There’s an opportunity for student learning use in our whiteboards and in the overall setup of the classroom.”
In addition to the classroom features, Johnson added that he is excited about the opportunity to be a part of a school designed to be a central part of its community.
“When I considered putting my name forward, the focus of my expression of interest was around my belief as an educator that I want the school to be about community,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of great resources that make it possible right here on site.”
Another community partnership first at Oak Creek is space dedicated to the Nutrition for Learning program. The charitable organization provides student nutrition programs at schools in all three Waterloo Region school boards. The room at Oak Creek includes food storage and prep areas to serve the students.
O’Neil Edwards, executive director of Nutrition for Learning, said that school staff understands the impact of food security on students and the community.
Its programs are universal access programs designed to remove any potential stigma associated with food security issues.
“Having a dedicated space normalizes it within the school. There is no shame. Students have an opportunity to come at any time. We have bins that are in the classroom, so that at any time that a young person feels a bit peckish, they can go take what they require and then go back and continue their learning journey,” Edwards said.
Johnson previously worked at an elementary school in Cambridge and saw the challenges Nutrition for Learning volunteers had without dedicated space. He said they often had challenges finding donated equipment such as a refrigerator to store food for the program.
“It was a building built in the mid 50s or 60s, and you were limited to the infrastructure that you had. Move forward to Oak Creek now, and we have a space that’s committed to making sure students have nutritious food and snacks when they’re at school,” Johnson said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.