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Breakthrough School Is Educators' Dream

February 11, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Director Norma Neumann-Johnson was like a kid touring her new house as she led her teachers through newly built Breakthrough Magnet School Friday. The school will move from Cornwall Street over spring break in April.

The $29.5 million building on Brookfield Street in Hartford is the first city-run magnet school to move into digs built from the ground up just for them. Everything is customized.

A special feature is a "sensory room" where students will go if they need to calm down or perk up. There they will find soothing contraptions such as a hanging lounge chair with pleasant music playing, big bubble tubes and special lights that they can hold.

Each classroom on the first floor for pre-k through fourth grade has a kitchen where teachers can cook with their students to teach them math lessons such as fractions. Students will eat in their rooms, family style, so teachers can reinforce table manners in keeping with the school's character education theme. For easy cleanup, each room has a dishwasher.

Classrooms have window seats for storytelling and doors leading outside to raised garden beds. Students will grow vegetables and flowers in the gardens and cook their veggies in the kitchens. Grades 5 through 8 on the second floor share a large rooftop garden.

Teachers have their own offices and every two classes share a bathroom. In place of traditional blackboards, walls will have special boards hooked up to the teachers' wireless laptop computers. And each class has an anteroom with cubbyholes for coats and boots.

The art and music rooms have soaring ceilings that reach two stories. The music room has special angles for improved acoustics and a special studio where ensembles can practice.

There's the "gymatorium" with a stage for the community meetings that the entire school has each week and there will be a low ropes course outside to teach team building.

Windows throughout have surprising shapes and sizes. Classes, for example, have small squares at eye level for young children and the library boasts a broad, arched window that covers the length of a wall.

Attached to the library is a television studio. Each day, students will broadcast "Breakthrough News" to televisions in all the classrooms.

There are even training rooms for the teachers from throughout the nation that Neumann-Johnson expects will come and study her program.

From outside, the part of the building that faces the road looks like two-story row houses - each painted a different color. The other side, facing the new Rice Heights houses, looks like a one-story building because it is built into a hill.

"This is unbelievable," Tim Houlton, a math and science teacher for the upper grades, declared as he stepped out to the roof garden. "I love it. It's open and airy and it feels warm."

Gabrielle Brodeur, a first-grader at the school who joined her father on the tour, gave the building a thumbs-up. "I like it. It's pretty," she said. "And I like the hallways - they're curvy."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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