New Whitefish High School Ready to Greet Students

Final touches on building project just in time for new school year

By Tristan Scott

With the school year fast approaching, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new state-of-the-art building that melds technology with a progressive curriculum, putting Whitefish in avant-garde company.

The school is set up more like a global college, according to project manager Dow Powell, who said the infrastructure will accommodate a cross-pollination between classes and subjects that allows for intra-curriculum networking and interaction.

Each wing of the building has seven classrooms and three collaborative learning areas. These areas allow classes to split up so students can work together in concert, or even accommodate classes wishing to work together in a common area.

Each classroom will feature an arsenal of laptop computers, rendering the daily field trip to a “computer lab” obsolete while allowing students to work with a teacher in real time.

It has been 15 months since construction began and students and faculty alike can’t wait to move in.

The project has a $22.5 million price tag – some of the money came from the school district and, with help from private donors and the City of Whitefish, the project incorporates the high-tech flash of Silicon Valley with a curriculum at the fore of an educational movement integrating technology with learning.

“It looks like a start-up, doesn’t it?” said Brett Allen, a supporter and architect of the new school’s Center for Applied Media Arts and Sciences wing, or CAMAS.

CAMAS is the new $2.89 million facility that stands poised to become a state-of-the-art hub of theater, music and technology studies at the revamped Whitefish High School.

Whitefish School District Superintendent Kate Orozco said the innovative, arts-driven component of the new curriculum works in tandem with the high school’s new infrastructure, the initial blueprint for which was made possible when voters approved a $14 million bond request in 2012.

The thrust of the CAMAS philosophy is to integrate “right brain” and “left brain” disciplines in an expanded, comprehensive curriculum, empowering students to compete in an interconnected and global landscape.

Although the district originally budgeted $558,000 to remodel existing music classrooms, they added $2.3 million to fully fund the CAMAS and complete the construction project by November.

Orozco said CAMAS, and the high school building project as a whole, aligns with a paradigm shift in education, positioning the school district at the vanguard of a movement to employ arts and technology as cores of curriculum, rather than ancillary components.

“Technology is ubiquitous now, both in our curriculum and outside of our curriculum,” Orozco said.

The highlights of a recent tour of the high school featured a completed library, cafeteria and weight room that appear to belong in a university, rather than high school, setting.

“This is a full-on industrial kitchen,” Powell, the project manager, said. “There’s talk of having the kids designing an app so they can order lunch from their smartphone ahead of time.”

On the tour, he paused to admire the weight room, which also appears equipped to function for a college-level, or even NFL team.

“There isn’t a college in Montana that has a weight room of this quality,” Powell said.

By interweaving technology with the curriculum, and by breaking down barriers between subject matter, class rooms and even continents – French classes, for example, can interact with students in France – the new high school enables a brave new world of learning.

“It feels connected not just to the local community, but also to the global community,” Powell said.

But even as the school enters the 21st century, vestiges of a past era remain, and bleachers from the old gym have been salvaged and installed as wainscoting along one wall by the school cafe.