Squires Elementary being turned into middle school

CASSOPOLIS — What started as a project for the Sam Adams Elementary fifth and sixth graders will become a reality in the fall when Cassopolis Middle School opens in the former Squires Elementary building.

According to Cassopolis Superintendent Dr. Angela Piazza, the fifth, sixth and seventh graders were involved in the Middle School Project, which asked them to design their ideal middle school. Before the representative of those three classes were about to tour Squires, school was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project continued virtually, and the district’s buildings and grounds team has been preparing the school to open as a middle school tentatively on Aug. 31.

For years, Cassopolis has been trying to figure out ways to separate the middle and high school students at Ross Beatty. Students, teachers, administration and community members all agreed that transitioning from elementary directly into a building that mixes the middle and high school students together was not ideal.

“I originally approached the teachers to see how they felt about it,” Piazza said. “But we got the kids involved in it because we do project-based learning, and we like to get the kids involved. We kind of threw out a question to the students asking them, ‘what is different about Cassopolis Public Schools and other districts?’ Immediately, they were like, ‘we do not have a middle school.’ So, I asked them what that would be like.”

The district made it a student-based project to get the children’s ideas out on the table.

“They came up with all kinds of fun ideas,” Piazza said. “Some of them were more Disneyland-ish. We asked them what would be more realistic, so they did a lot of designs and presented designs and drawings and lists. We brought it down to ‘what would we use in our district?’ “The rest was done virtually as the district videotaped it and created a virtual tour. That was part of their project. They talked about the space and some ideas they had about the space. We are getting the space prepared for them so that it is ready, but then we are going to allow them to come in and add some of their touches.”

By creating the new middle school, Cassopolis is making use of space it already has, Piazza said. It also allows the district to create space for the students when they return under whatever guidelines the state sets forth as far as how many students can be in a classroom, how much room between desks and other measures.

The same is true about the additional space at Cassopolis High School that is being created by the move.

“With project-based learning, you need more space and bigger classrooms,” Piazza said. “You need student lounges and student study areas. We are already planning on how we can separate some of the classes so that students can spread out a bit more.”

The feedback from the community has been positive, according to Piazza. For many years, the district has been talking about creating a separate middle school, an idea that has been welcomed by the community.

“I have only heard positive things,” she said. “I think this is something that has been wanted in the community for quite a while. This is really what is best for our kids. They need their own space. They sort of get lost. They go from an elementary setting right to high school. Developmentally, educationally, socially and emotionally, they are just not really ready for that big of a jump.”

Piazza added that it will also make moving from middle school to the high school more special.

Another plus will be the district’s ability to use the outdoor space around Squires to help the students’ health and allow them to do hands-on projects.

“We actually started moving from farm to school at our elementary school last year,” Piazza said. “We just have a lot of space at Squires. My dream is for the kids to be able to have more outside time, which is healthier for them as well. Doing more projects outside and outdoor classrooms. We are hoping to see them do some of those farm-to-school projects.”