Imagine a place where a young girl writes her own fairy tale and brings it to life!

She directs her classmates on stage, in full costume, with lighting. Instead of a traditional set, her actor-friends perform in front of a state-of-the-art green screen – while an older student captures the performance on film. Using the magic of video effects, she works to superimpose the actors onto a virtual fairy tale background.

Nearby, a K-4 grocery store is in the making as a kindergartner and fourth grader work together to sort, price, and stock goods on the shelves. Off to the side, three second grade girls move bookshelves throw pillows on the ground to create a secluded nook. They’re huddled with iPads in their laps, reading from the Kiva website, a global non-profit organization, researching where to donate the money they’ve worked so hard to raise.

The space that these girls work in is not a library, a computer lab. It’s not a theater or a creative makerspace. Yet it’s all these things and more-all wrapped up together and integrated into everyday learning as an extension of the classroom. This space will come to life for girls in junior kindergarten through grade four at Stuart this fall.

The existing floor plan of the Lower School is being reconfigured to revolve around an expansive learning space called “Millie’s Garden,” named for Millie Harford, a founding Stuart parent. Equipped with flexible furnishings and state-of-the-art technology, it is designed to encourage hands-on exploration, creation and collaboration. New classrooms will have easy access to Millie’s Garden at either end and will accommodate the move of one junior kindergarten class into the Lower School.

Mrs. Betty Wold Johnson, a past Stuart parent and trustee, has committed a lead matching gift to the renovation project. “We are so very grateful to Mrs. Johnson,” said Dr. Patty L. Fagin, Head of School. “Her gift will essentially allow donors to double the impact of their contributions.”

According to Head of Lower School Michelle Dowling, “At the very core of a Lower School education at Stuart is a commitment to immerse our students in the experience of learning. A learning-by-doing approach encourages our teachers to act as facilitators who engage the girls in interdisciplinary studies and project-based learning.” The current Lower School classrooms were built 50 years ago and the segregated rooms work against collaboration and integration across subjects or grade levels.

The design and project management for the renovation are by Richardson Smith Architects in Princeton. Their incredible design for the space creates a metaphorical garden that unites the Townsend Garden on one side and the Lower School playground on the other. Inspired by these outside areas, the new common learning area, Millie’s Garden, will feel like a garden itself-ideal for childhood growth and discovery, designed to fully support teaching and learning for Stuart girls not only today, but well into the next century.

Stuart Country Day School, 1200 Stuart Road, Princeton. 609-921-2330. See ad, page 8.

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