The Vicksburg Warren School District hosted a grand official opening ceremony for the state-of-the-art Academy of Innovation building on Wednesday, and in the words of Mayor George Flaggs Jr., the school and its mission are “phenomenal.”
Located at 1650A Rosa A. Temple Drive, the AOI building is the culmination of years of planning and hard work by VWSD. The school is aimed at seventh and eighth graders pursuing a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) path.
STEAM Academy is an accelerated study program for junior high school students. It offers project-based learning opportunities for students who exhibit exceptional abilities in academics. Students will have the opportunity to participate in learning processes that integrate reflection, exploration, and projects while integrating academic and professional standards in a STEAM-based environment.
The new Innovation Academy building features innovative designs such as glass walls that slide backwards and create more open spaces for students, plumbing, electrical piping and ductwork exposed so that students can learn about these processes and about an abundance of non-traditional learning environments.
“It’s a direct response to the creative learning that takes place inside this building,” said architect Gary Bailey of Dale Bailey Architects. “These kids and their teachers are all focused on working together and working together to solve problems, and building is a solution that respects that.”
Bailey was the mastermind behind the school’s design, which is based on the “Golden Rectangle”. He has designed more than 40 schools across Mississippi and said AOI was his most ambitious project to date.
“Forty-two years of designing schools, and this is the culmination of a career,” Bailey said. “That’s what architects do at school. These kids are the reason this building is the way it is because they are empowered to dream, to have a vision and a passion for learning, and teachers who will teach them how learning really happens.
Seventh-grader Kira Nelton said she encourages all students to consider attending AOI and hopes it will help her pursue her career dreams of entering the world of fashion.
“I want to get into fashion marketing and be a creative director,” Nelton said. “(AOI) provides creative arts and math, which helps because I’m going to have to measure fabrics, as well as art, because fashion is an art form.”
Nelton said her favorite course so far is robotics, which incorporates a variety of practical skills and creative problem-solving techniques.
AOI principal Dr Jason McKellar, who has been at the school for seven years and oversaw teaching at his previous location at 1315 Grove St., said his students were grateful to be in an environment modern learning.
“What excites me the most is the opportunity this building will provide for students,” McKellar said. “Here you will see a math teacher and a science teacher working hand in hand, or an English teacher and a history teacher side by side; a lot of co-teaching and a lot of space for students to split up and work on a project, or if we need to group them together, we can do that.
AOI is a promise of continuous innovation in VWSD, according to Superintendent Chad Shealy.
Shealy said the opportunity to present the new building to the community was “amazing”.
“When you have the opportunity to rearrange education the way you would have liked all the time, that was the impetus for the start of the Academy of Innovation,” said Shealy. “The teachers and Jason McKellar have done an amazing job transforming the interior, and it’s great to have a building that matches what’s going on at AOI.
School board chairman Jim Sturgis Jr. echoed Shealy’s statements and thanked Warren County taxpayers for embracing the bond issue that helped make the school a reality.
“Warren County, I want to thank you for your investment in enabling students to become leaders in the community,” he said.
Flaggs was the last to speak before students and community leaders cut the ribbon and officially opened AOI to the public.
For him, the importance of the school was twofold: In addition to providing an educational environment like no other in the state, the location of the building also has special significance.
“We need to put the historical significance of this site into perspective. You have to know the meaning of this site and the culture of this site, ”Flaggs said. “Sir. Shealy, you and the board put the best school on the best site, because you put it on the grounds of Rosa A. Temple High School. This school in 1959 created the opportunity for to be the first black accredited high school in the state of Mississippi.
“In this building… is a program that so many of us wanted. It is the start of a home and educational opportunity that many children in Mississippi would not have. … You are phenomenal.