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As Middletown Schools Modernize, Students Get Energized

Ann Thompson
The Middletown High School campus, which includes a new middle school, has been reconfigured inside to encourage collaboration and the use of technology.

Energy is flowing at Middletown City Schools. Students in new and renovated schools are making use of technology in ways they haven't before.

As part of the $96 million project that renovated Middletown High School and built a new middle school, the district has included flexible digital learning areas.

Sophomore Donivan Henderson had a big smile on his face when thinking about the changes from last school year to this one. "It's hard to put into words," Henderson says. "But I can just say it's amazing."

Instead of being inside the traditional classroom with desks and blackboards, kids are out in the hall in what is now a flexible learning space with elevated tables. The furniture can be easily moved to create different spaces.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
This is the Open Learning Style Cafe that is connected to the Media Center.

Henderson makes use of special spaces in his child development and art classes. "The new building just represents the new kids' attitudes," he says. "Everybody's even more enthusiastic about coming here."

One person who's a big part of the changes is Superintendent Marlon Styles. He's one reason Middletown has been asked to join the League of Innovative Schools. As part of that, Styles is promising to support digital promise research, engage with entrepreneurs, participate in league collaboratives and more. Styles says part of the mission is to address the equity and access gap that's present not just in Middletown but across the country.

"There's an unreal amount of energy in our district with our Middie Modernization Movement," Styles says, using the nickname for the Middletown Modernization Movement. "Our staff—it doesn't matter your title or position—our staff is 100 percent all in with off the charts excitement." 

What's known as STEAM—or science, technology, engineering, art and math—is a big focus for the entire district. And with bright color schemes and digital displays kids from kindergarten through grade 12 can come together with their own classmates and learn in ways they haven't before. Even in middle school there are so-called "maker spaces" where students gather to work on themes like coding and robotics.

Middletown City Schools realizes its not rewriting the book on the use of technology but for the district, which has below-average state report cards, it's generating excitement that's helping students turn things around.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
A group of students in a freshman science class collaborate to make a digital poster on friction.