West Willow Elementary School, the first new Cedar Rapids Community School District school building in nearly 20 years, is now welcoming students into its doors. This new school encapsulates CRCSD’s vision of “Every Learner. Future Ready.” as its modern features help all children be future ready by giving them resources that they would not have access to otherwise.

“It doesn’t matter what neighborhood school you attend, you will have access to the very same resources that [all schools] have,” says Superintendent Noreen Bush. By combining smaller schools into larger ones with updated resources, more students will have the ability to learn at a high level and meet the standards of education CRCSD strives for.

The new West Willow Elementary School building has many modern updates to classrooms, and completely new features that students will appreciate. The planning committee and school administrators have worked the past two years to plan for this opening.

One of the new features inside the building is what is called a “makerspace”— a lab-like space where students will learn how to solve problems creatively using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles. For example, students may learn about catapults and then make and test a catapult of their own.

The building is also designed to be safe for students. In the event of a weather-related emergency, such as a tornado, students will gather in the kindergarten wing of the building, where they will be protected with reinforced floors, ceilings, and windows. The main office of the building will also have a window located perpendicular to the front door, leaving the secretary to easily identify who is trying to enter the building.

The building also features accommodations for children who were not present in the original building. One of these is a door specially designed for smaller children to walk in comfortably through the entrance. Another is the featuring of two playgrounds within the school grounds, one for preschool children and one for students K-5.

The building also has more open and collaborative space for students to work. Each grade level is assigned to what are called “pods” where students will be learning in a classroom, but also have many chances to work with other students from different classes. This will help them learn content at a deeper level as well as allowing for some fun breaks in the day. The pods will be divided by grade level, and each will be named after a tree that is native to Iowa.

The new building is also designed to serve as a “community center” for neighborhood residents. The library and cafeteria spaces can also be open for community members to have meetings in, such as a local Boy Scout group. Providing opportunities for not only students but other members of the community is one of the purposes for the school. “West Willow is the community’s building,” explains Greg O’Connell, West Willow principal.

The next facilities master plan project to be completed is Maple Grove Elementary, which will replace Jackson Elementary School. Maple Grove is scheduled to open for the 2022-23 school year.