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South Kent building growing on the former Arno Farm

KENT — The South Kent School is moving ahead quickly with plans for converting the former Arno Farm into an educational complex it will call the Center for Innovation (CFI).Head of School Andrew Vadnais and Associate Head of School and Director of the CFI Richard Chavka shared an update last week with The Lakeville Journal.For the boys boarding school, it’s clear that the project is as much about building the foundations of 21st century education as it is about building new facilities.Central to the design plans will be the idea of adapting the curriculum to one rooted in challenge-based learning using the farm setting. “There aren’t any models out there to help us, so we’re having to figure this out on our own,” Vadnais said. Why a new curriculum?“The challenge is that everything today’s students have been exposed to is gearing them to go into a world that no longer exists, a 20th-century world, and they know it,” Vadnais said. “As far as they are concerned, none of it is relevant. Every one of our cultural institutions that we have depended upon for our steady state is under stress. “Today’s students are the product of all that stress. Somebody is going to have to help them have an education that will properly prepare them for the changing world realities of the 21st century.”The school is moving toward digital learning with no printed textbooks, for example. “This year, every student was given an iPad II,” Vadnais said. “Only 8 percent of texts are still printed books.”In December 2010, iPads were given to faculty members so they would have a head start, before the students got theirs, to learn how to use them.“We knew the students would run circles around the faculty with the iPads as soon as they got them so we wanted faculty to have a head start,” Vadnais said, adding that, “Now we have caught the attention of the people at Apple in Cuppertino, Calif. They’re asking questions about the CFI.”Students buy their textbooks digitally online from Inkling and Classbooks.com. “One of the things the students really embrace about digital is not just that you have a textbook on a screen, but that you can instantaneously access a world of information in all these different forms, whether it is video or printed text,” Chavka said.Buildings, trailsChavka and Vadnais said the bricks-and-mortars plans are progressing as well.Work is about to begin on the Community Building, which Chavka described as “a large multi-use space, 9,200 square feet, that can accommodate 300 people. It can be divided up into temporary classrooms, and it will have a full-service kitchen.”Vadnais said it will be available not just to the school community but also to the larger community of the town and region.“It is a multi-use facility that can be used by many different people,” he said. It is expected to be ready for occupancy in eight or nine months.Funds from DaysWhen asked how the project is being financed, Vadnais said, “It has come from two of our alumni, F.K. Day (class of 1979) and his brother, Lincoln Day (class of 1983). “F.K. was recently profiled in Forbes magazine as one of the top 20 philanthropists in the world. They are wonderful people. “The brothers graduated from South Kent School and went on to patent an on-the-handle grip shift for mountain bikes and they created their company, Sram. They are now the leader in high-quality bicycle component manufacturing. They acquired the Arno Farm land and are paying for phase one, which includes the Community Building, landscaping and biking trails.”Chavka said, “We’re working with the International Mountain Bike Association to develop a multi-use trail system. A main trail will connect the main campus with the CFI.”All buildings on the CFI campus will be 100 percent solar powered, with the Connecticut Light and Power grid as a battery backup. Once the Community Building is complete, fundraising will begin for two additional structures. Plans are also being discussed for a farm program that would integrate with what is being done on the main campus. The goal would be to eventually feed students and faculty from the farm. It would likely be three to five years before the farm could reach that capacity.

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