Back to school
A creative learning space at Portola High School
FIVEPOINT'S COMMITMENT TO QUALITY EDUCATION
Beacon Park School’s aesthetically pleasing design
The debut of two new schools highlights the excellence of public education in Irvine
By Kedric Francis | August 28, 2016
Whether it’s been decades, or just a year or two, everyone remembers what the first day of a new school year feels like. Kids both eager and nervous are dressed in their best new outfits freshly bought at back-to-school specials. They kiss their proud parents goodbye and walk into classrooms filled with faces both new and familiar. It’s a brand new day, and the future is limitless.
That simple scenario took place across Irvine last week. But at Beacon Park School and Portola High School it wasn’t just the students who were in awe. It was everyone who entered the brand new, state-of-the-art facilities in Irvine’s Great Park Neighborhoods.
“When you walk in them, the first thing one notices is they are aesthetically beautiful schools,” says Irvine Unified School District Board Of Education member Paul Bokota. “More importantly, the schools are designed to promote 21st century learning.”
The classrooms and learning labs are designed to be dynamic rather than static, and to “facilitate different and creative ways of learning,” he adds. Classrooms are not set up in the traditional way with desks all in a row facing a teacher behind a big desk at the front of the room. Instead, walls move so that classrooms can be combined. Desks move and fit together so kids can interact in groups of two, four or eight. Desks have white boards built into the top, that tilt so students can write on them and then share their work. Some children learn sitting at a desk, others want to stand, or even sit on the floor. The classrooms are set up for that, too, with a wide variety of seating and desks of different heights.
“Physical facilities no longer constrain how students learn or teachers teach,” says Lauren Brooks, also a school board member. And it’s not just about the physical space. The schools are wired for success—literally. There’s 50 to 100 times more bandwidth at the schools than before. “We’re a ‘bring your own device’ school district,” Brooks says. “Technology is going to continue to grow, and Irvine public schools will be on the forefront. It’s taking learning to the next level, where it’s encompassing everything.”
Beacon Park School’s first day of classes saw kids from kindergarten through 6th grade attending. The 7th grade classes will begin next year and the 8th grade the year after. Eventually, 1,000 Beacon Park Bengals (the school’s mascot) in kindergarten through 8th grade will enjoy the school’s innovative, open and connected design. Highlights include a full gymnasium (a rarity for elementary and K-8 schools), a design lab, an innovation lab, a fitness lab and classrooms dedicated to science and music.
Principal Bob Curley is excited about the leadership team at the school, and the culture of community, connection and collaboration his staff is already building. “Principal Bob” has been with IUSD for 26 years.
The 43-acre Portola High School will eventually be home to about 2,400 Bulldogs, the school’s mascot. (Both school mascots were chosen in part to honor the men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps who served at the base where the schools are located.)
Principal John Pehrson will lead the Bulldogs staff and students, coming to the new school after a decade as principal of University High School.
The state-of-the-art high school also features a performing arts building with a 700-seat theater, a dance studio, an electives building that will house video production, 2D and 3D art, music rooms and science labs.
“The school offers a real sense of the dedication of IUSD to arts and music,” says Betty Carroll, president of the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. She points out the enviable details, such as a practice stage at Portola that’s the exact dimensions of the main stage in the “acoustically perfect” auditorium, allowing for rehearsals for shows.
The two new schools represent the excellence in education for which IUSD schools are nationally renowned. In August, Newsweek ranked the nation’s 20,000 public high schools, choosing 500 as top in the U.S. Three IUSD high schools were in the top 100: Northwood #25, University #57 and Woodbridge #69. And that’s just the latest in a long list of accolades that Irvine public schools receive.
“There are always going to be new challenges,” Brooks says. “As the city grows, we grow. That’s an opportunity and a challenge to bring new exciting vision to all of our schools,” she says, noting the $319 million school facilities bond measure that passed in June to bring upgrades to Irvine’s older schools.
“Irvine Unified School District is all about maximizing the potential of all our students,” she says. “It’s our job to help them find their passion.”
Building bridges, connecting communities
A week before the first day of classes began at the newest Irvine public schools, district and city officials came together with local families to dedicate a new bridge that will make it easier for K-8 kids and their parents to walk and cycle to school.
The bridge extends over Irvine Blvd., connecting the Great Park Neighborhoods of Pavilion Park and Beacon Park, where the new Beacon Park School is located.
“This bridge is all about connectivity. Connecting people to each other, and creating a community,” said FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new bridge, which he predicted is “going to be an iconic element in the city of Irvine.”
Ribbon cutting: (From left) Irvine Councilmember Christina Shea, Mayor Steven Choi, Planning Commissioner Anthony Kuo, Portola Principal John Pehrson, FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad, IUSD Trustee Paul Bokota, Trustee Lauren Brooks, Supt. Terry Walker, and Beacon Park Principal Bob Curley.