You might expect students who must attend summer school to complain, but at Buckingham School, summer is an exciting time, with students cultivating a garden of fresh fruits and vegetables, while gaining new knowledge in math, language and science. The garden is just one part of a new, 21st century complex based on the physical and psychological needs of kids.
Music plays in the lobby outside the cafeteria at the center of Buckingham County’s educational complex - a place where Bob Moje, President of VMDO Architects, hopes students will take time out to eat a nutritious meal. He’s convinced that the 22-minute lunch hour contributes to childhood obesity.
“The actual amount of time they spend at the table is about seven minutes. Your body doesn’t process whether you’ve eaten or not in seven minutes.”
To further enhance the dining experience, planners left the kitchen open, so students could see food being prepared and could smell bread being baked.
“We have the bakery right here in the corner with porthole windows for the children to look in, a vent at the top so that the odor comes out.”
Outside, there’s a garden where the school plans to grow its own vegetables. Inside, there’s a food lab, a teaching kitchen, and on the walls, information about food.
“You would think children from rural areas would have better food. They actually have worse food, because most farms grow some kind of industrial crop that’s sold, not something that they prepare and eat. Also, their exercise is way down, because even if they have chores on the farm, most of the time it may be sitting on a tractor. It’s hardly the active stuff that it used to be before.”
The school attacks obesity beyond the cafeteria with furniture designed to move. Again, architect Bob Moje.
“Movement is critical to the learning process. The amount of the brain that’s firing and retaining information is drastically different when you incorporate movement in it, so for a hundred years we’ve been telling kids to sit still, and it turns out to be exactly wrong.”
In addition to classrooms, there are special learning areas like the Tree Canopy or the Cave, where kids can cozy-up with a book or play learning games on laptops and iPads. Primary school Principal Pennie Allen says that allows teachers to divide and conquer.
“A typical classroom has about twenty students. The teacher will start off with all 20 for the first 50 minutes., and then she’ll keep ten and send the other to the literacy work station. You know ten at a time is much more conducive to learning - more time with the teacher, more individual turns reading, practicing sounds."
The terrazzo floors are flecked with minerals mined in Buckingham, and when they look down, students like 7-year-old Jaquon discover some surprising prints.
“Some feet! Whose feet? Your feet? No! Who do you think would have made a print like that? A possum! Maybe a possum or look what’s across the hall. What’s that room called? What is C-A-V-E, do you know? Cave! And what lives in a cave? A bear. So could those be little bear tracks? Yeah.”
The walls also offer lessons, with quotes from Shakespeare to Seuss and colorful photographs with text read by 8-year-old Taylor.
“Have you ever seen snow show hares, striped skunks, wild turkeys, bob cats? Do you like having these colorful photographs in the hall? Yes - they’re really, really pretty.” 8-year-old Rondel likes the stories of native trees.
The new school is also mindful of its history. From 1924 to 1953 it was the site of Buckingham County’s first high school for African-Americans, and various exhibits pay tribute to native son Carter G. Woodson, a pioneer in African American education, for whom this new and innovative complex is named.