116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Maple Grove Elementary School, the newest school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, is a “building full of rock stars,” Principal Nick Duffy said.
Excited teachers and staff welcomed the school’s first students Tuesday at Maple Grove Elementary, 1300 38th St. NW, Cedar Rapids. It replaces the former Jackson Elementary School, which was torn down over the summer.
The school name and mascot were chosen by students after months of input from students, staff and the community. They were approved by the school board last year. When taking submissions for school names from students, teachers encouraged them to talk to their parents and guardians about how their own names were chosen and talked about what a name signifies, Duffy said.
Names were submitted shortly after the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, which severely damaged houses and trees in Cedar Rapids. It weighed heavily on students’ minds, and they chose to honor it with the name “Maple Grove,” Duffy said. Although one of the mascot suggestions was the “unicorns,” students instead chose the mascot the “Grizzlies.”
There are now 580 preschool through fifth grade students at Maple Grove Elementary — more than the 320 students at the former Jackson Elementary. Other students are from Truman, which transitioned to Truman Early Learning Center for 4-year-old preschool this year.
There are about four classrooms of students at each grade level, with class sizes around 19 to 22 students. The school’s size is double compared to many other elementary schools in the district. Smaller schools means fewer sections of each grade, which can lead to larger class sizes and more thinly stretched staff, Duffy said.
Specials teachers who teach physical education, music and art can be based at Maple Grove, unlike other schools where the specials teachers are shared between two or three buildings. This helps them get to know students better and collaborate with staff in the building.
Classrooms are built as a collection of neighborhoods that connect with large common areas where students can gather and do group work where the classroom teacher can still keep an eye on them. This also is a space for multiple classes to collaborate together.
Instead of being located in the main office, Duffy’s office is located in a hallway with a wall of windows, making him visible to students. He enjoys being able to wave at students as they walk through the hallways, be more visible and feel more connected to what’s happening in the building, Duffy said.
Windows are a staple at Maple Grove, lining the classrooms and cafeteria to let natural light in. Some teachers are even leaving the harsh florescent lights off in their classrooms because the sunlight streaming in through the large windows is enough, Duffy said.
The lunch room has a beautiful view of one of the playgrounds and trees outside the cafeteria, Duffy said. “Everything about this building is an upgrade, a glow up,” he said.
Other amenities include a retractable stage in the gym, which means the school can host music concerts on campus — something they weren’t able to do at Jackson Elementary. It is also fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While the facility is “shiny and new,” the most important thing is the people who do the work and children who come to learn, Duffy said. Last spring, Jackson and Truman school staff began holding joint meetings to get to know each other.
Staff had access to the building the first week of August, which was a “good amount” of time for them to set up their classrooms and learning spaces, Duffy said. Staff did a scavenger hunt before the first day of school to get to know the building.
Ann DiGiacomo, an English Language Learner teacher at Maple Grove Elementary, said the staff have “a lot of grace” and patience with each other as they all get to know each other and the new building. Everyone has a “positive attitude and a lot of energy,” she said.
DiGiacomo’s certified assistance dog Keely, 5, a Labradoodle, is also happy to be back at work after the summer. Keely is being slowly introduced in to DiGiacomo’s classroom, where students who are from other countries might not be familiar with a domestic dog.
Once they get to know Keely, though, DiGiacomo said she helps students experiencing “heavy anxiety” while learning a second language relax and gain confidence.
Darcy Oates, a media secretary in Maple Grove’s library, said the new space is “amazing.” There’s room for students to collaborate with each other, and quiet nooks for them to sit and read.
The district began a facilities master plan for its elementary schools in 2018. As a part of that plan, the Cedar Rapids district constructed and opened West Willow Elementary School last year, which replaced Coolidge Elementary. Maple Grove Elementary School is the second school to open under the plan, replacing Jackson Elementary.
New elementary schools are expected to decrease operational costs for the district and address uneven distribution of resources. The work has been funded by SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — an existing statewide sales tax allocated to school districts based on certified enrollment.
The next elementary school to be built will be on the annex of Arthur Elementary School, 2630 B Ave. NE. Arthur and Garfield elementary school attendance areas will be combined.
Harrison and Madison elementary school attendance zones also will be combined by fall 2025. District officials are still considering two options for how to do this: renovate the existing Harrison Elementary building, 1310 11th St. NW, or build on the property of Madison Elementary, 1341 Woodside Dr. NW.
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