Educating tomorrow’s workers

The start of a new school year often means adjusting to myriad changes for students, staff, and parents, but nowhere is that more apparent locally this year than at Madison Country Day School.

Dane County’s only independent Pre­K through 12th grade school is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Country Day will kick off the new school year by unveiling a new 20,000-square-foot addition and renovations to established buildings that embrace a renewed focus on 21st century educational concepts.

In particular, an emphasis was placed on incorporating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education into most every facet of the new space to better prepare students for life after high school.

“What we continue to hear and learn from community businesses is that today’s workforce needs resilient problem-solvers,” explains Ben Hebebrand, MCDS’s head of school. “We are proud that MCDS graduates don’t need to be told all of the steps required to get from A to Z. They are accustomed to feedback, to trying and failing and then trying again, and to looking at each endeavor as a learning and growing opportunity.”

Among the improvements students and staff will be greeted with upon their return to school this year are:

  • A designated STEAM wing featuring new science labs and a maker space design lab;
  • A designated humanities and world languages wing;
  • A designated performing arts floor, featuring choir, orchestra, and band Rooms;
  • New art classrooms with an adjoining terrace overlooking the nearby prairie;
  • A new Lower School library with a tinker space for creative engineering;
  • A video recording studio;
  • Student collaborative learning areas and new “recharge” technology stations;
  • A designated college advising center;
  • A centrally located student services center;
  • A physical education classroom;
  • An outdoor classroom amphitheater; and
  • Increased parking.

Families, teachers, trustees, and other MCDS community members funded the $6.7 million project. Bray Architects and Findorff Construction provided planning, design, and construction on the project.

According to Hebebrand, the new addition and associated renovation projects were community efforts that included the voices and opinions of parents, faculty, staff, and students.

One example of student input is that academic domains — humanities on the top floor, STEAM subjects on the second floor, and performing arts on the ground floor design the new building. The reason? “The kids wanted to make sure that we do not create a school where students of all ages are separated by traditional boundaries of elementary, middle, and high school,” notes Hebebrand, “because they enjoy the incredible sense of community that is generated when kids of varying ages interact with each other throughout the day.”

Molding a next-gen workforce

One of the many ways in which education is changing with the times is in the idea that it’s not enough for students to just learn about concepts. In order to understand and be able to better apply those concepts in the real world, students need to make those concepts come to life.

“Design thinking is a helpful approach to have students see the interrelatedness of science, math, engineering, technology, and the arts,” Hebebrand states. “This type of thinking allows students to study curricular content in a manner that will challenge them to apply their learning with a focus on creatively seeking solutions that are not necessarily based on existing or familiar models, but rather uncover — or discover — new solutions.”



This type of thinking typically is iterative, Hebebrand explains, meaning that students will go through stages or iterations, including wrong pathways, to arrive at a new solution.

“Our maker space and tinker space will be the laboratories where this iterative design thinking takes shape and comes to life, increasing student passion and interest,” he notes. “A great byproduct of this approach is a highly collaborative learning environment — similar to project teams being assembled in universities or the corporate sector. Application of knowledge, comparing and contrasting academic domains, and designing, analyzing, and questioning solutions are the kind of thinking skills that matter in our society and economy.”

Ada Hazen, a freshman at MCDS and one of a record 445 students enrolled for the upcoming school year, is excited about the additional space, “It will be nice to have so much new space where my classmates and I can study and work together on projects.”

Adds Hebebrand: “Our community has really come together to make this happen. I think it really shows their support of our commitment not only to STEAM, but whole child education including our exceptional music program.”

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