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Del Sol opens, celebrates

"A momentous occasion."

That is how Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony at Del Sol Academy was described by Dr. Trenton Hansen, Assistant Superintendent for Planning and Development for JUSD.

And so it was: Teachers beamed, students played and visitors toured the school after the ribbon was cut, officially, on the district's trailblazing K-8 STEAM academy. 

The campus, which opened Aug. 8 with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, supports districtwide priorities such as college and career readiness; student grit, resiliency and determination; and learning without limits for a lifetime. 

Tuesday's program underscored those assets – and more – before a crowd of teachers and staff, local dignitaries and members of the community.

Superintendent Elliott Duchon emphasized student success and Jurupa's focus on neuroscience-based learning, along with STEAM innovation at Del Sol: "This school will be driving a new curriculum" that many other schools will follow, he said.

Principal Maureen Stevens explained that STEAM-related job opportunities are growing much faster than career prospects in non-STEAM areas, and stressed equity in ensuring that all students have the skills to thrive after high school.

Three Del Sol students, Makayla Ooten, Kaitlyn Juarez and Eddie McArdle Ventura, also addressed the audience; all transferred from other schools or districts to test the STEAM experience and said that teachers at Del Sol push them enough to grow, but not enough to "break." 

"I feel like I can be myself here and everyone has accepted me, and I'm just so happy to be here," Makayla said. 

University partners also praised Del Sol for making connections not only between STEAM and students, but also among students, universities and industry.

Dr. Jay Farrell, Associate Dean of the UCR Bourns College of Engineering, lauded Del Sol's unique mission, emphasized the nexus between art and science, and cheered JUSD's Innovation Center, which opened in January at Jurupa Valley High School and augments STEAM learning at Del Sol.

Rhonda Clement, Industry Liaison for the CBU Bourns College of Engineering, was pleased to see Del Sol's STEAM curriculum start in kindergarten – a cutting edge approach.  Working only with older students brings marginal gains after graduation, she said; to amplify those benefits, "it is so significant that you're starting (with STEAM) in Kindergarten with these students … It will have such an impact on the Inland Empire."

JUSD school board President Robert Garcia recalled the Del Sol groundbreaking just 15 months ago, tapped the crowd's enthusiasm ("Here we are … it's beautiful, isn't it?") and closed with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: " 'An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.' "

Mr. Garcia then cut a ceremonial ribbon on the state-of-the-art facility.  After four years of planning and construction, the school features 43 classrooms and a slew of learning amenities – including 9,000 square feet of lab space for robotics, music and more; touchscreens, interactive projectors and 3D printers; and flexible layouts for student movement, exploration and collaboration.

As visitors began touring the spacious, two-floor campus, teachers opened their colorful, high-tech classrooms and shared some thoughts about the new school.

Tara Macaulay, who teaches PE and STEAM to kindergarteners and sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, said she relishes the friendships, new equipment and welcoming environment on campus.

Kindergarten co-teachers Kaselle Crislip and Jessica Schmidt raved about the flexible seating and classroom layouts.  "It's really good for the kids to have that hands-on learning and movement," the teachers said.  "They can focus their minds and move their bodies."

Karla Dunzweiler, who teaches 36 kindergartners, said she was inspired by the passion and work ethic of Principal Stevens.

TK teacher April Jacobson also praised Ms. Stevens – and said the environment at Del Sol nurtures long-term learning for students.  "I love that kids have the ability to explore, to discover things," she said.   "We have a lot more buy-in when students discover and apply learning on their own instead of being told, 'That's how it is.' " 

Kids in Ms. Jacobson's class celebrate that learning by saving each individualized, illustrated lesson (topics include favorite things, circles and the color yellow) for a memory book that each student takes home in June – a bound collection of the year's work.

What better way to commemorate the youngest students in the opening year of the district's newest school?