August 28, 2003


Photo by Lauren Heaton
Mikasa Simms, a second-grade teacher at Mills Lawn School, preparing her room this week for the start of a new school year.


What’s new at Mills Lawn School

The principal is conducting business from the teacher’s lounge, temporarily. The front lawn is a slab of dirt and filled with work trucks and a Port-o-John, temporarily.

But on Monday, two days before school was scheduled to start at Mills Lawn School, things were still a go as construction workers scurried in and out of the path of teachers and staff who were moving supplies and setting up their classrooms to welcome students to a new school year.

Multi-age teacher Jody Pettiford spent long hours over the weekend organizing one of the school’s four new classrooms in the annex. Arranging her room to fit her students’ needs and make them feel safe has taken a lot of work, she said, but she is excited about the new space.

“The gym is probably the coolest new space we can possibly have,” she said.

The expanded gym and performing arts area offers plenty of light and space for flag football on one side while the lunch period continues on the other.

“And we have all this wonderful art from last year to hang on the walls and two 14-foot palm trees donated by Knollwood’s nursery for the atrium,” Mills Lawn principal Christine Hatton said on Monday morning, in between a teacher training and a staff meeting. “It’s beautiful, we’re going to love it.”

The main thing that still needs attention is the rubber flooring in the gym and the linoleum floor for the atrium, which connects the new classrooms and the library to the gym and the rest of the school. Craig Conrad, the district maintenance supervisor and construction project manager, hopes to have the new flooring laid this fall.

“We don’t want to be waiting around until November, December to get the floor in,” he said.

The wet spring delayed drying time for the concrete foundation, Conrad said, preventing installation of the floor. Some of the ceiling tiles still need to be placed, and the paint needs to be touched up here and there, but the show will go on, as teachers and staff move forward with curriculum changes and ongoing projects this year.

“Our immediate focus is on having fun!” Hatton said.

Mills Lawn will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Oct. 24 and 25 with a dedication of the new space and a performance in honor of the last five decades of elementary education at the school. Students will spend the first two months of the year learning some of the music, dances and games of their parents’ generations, which they will perform at the celebration, and the school has invited several speakers and alumni, including Senator Mike Dewine, to share in the commemoration weekend.

The performance preparation will be integrated into the general curriculum, which for grades kindergarten through sixth will focus on improving skills in writing and reading comprehension, Hatton said. The year’s first teacher in-service training will be devoted to instructing Mills Lawn, McKinney and Yellow Springs High School teachers how to get their students to write in any subject or discipline.

Mills Lawn teachers are also phasing out basal reading textbooks in favor of buying trade books rated by level of difficulty to allow students to progress at their own pace. As an Ohio Reads school, Mills Lawn has applied for a $3,000 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation to supplement book purchases.

School leaders wouldn’t let language arts run away with all the resources without also giving a boost to the sciences. This year, a committee is studying how to enrich the experiential element of the school’s science program, training students to develop problem-solving skills by doing rather than by reading about something in a book, Hatton said.

“Science has changed fairly dramatically in the past five years, it’s more hands-on than learning factoids. That’s not what schools are doing anymore,” she said.

Mills Lawn is also staying ahead of the curve with its new Internet Video Distance Learning equipment, which will allow the entire student body to take virtual field trips to places such as the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and talk in real time to docents from museums such as the Louvre in Paris. The school’s media technology specialist and librarian, Dionne Barclay, will be researching areas of interest that match with each grade’s curriculum. Barclay said that one of the first places students will connect with is COSI museum in Columbus.

The 2003–04 school year is also the third and final year for the Mills Lawns project “Looking In, Looking Out: Our Place in the World.” It is the dissemination year, during which teachers and staff will attend education conferences and workshops to share their experiences with other educators. During a statewide teacher in-service day in October, Mills Lawn may invite educators from neighboring districts to Yellow Springs for a workshop on the grant process and last year’s artists-in-residencies, Hatton said.

—Lauren Heaton