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Under Construction: AJB students return to new buildings, classrooms, and a new makeover for student learning

(Seguin) – This year, perhaps it’s the students and staff at AJ Briesemeister Middle School who are most looking forward to returning to school. That’s because today the campus welcomes not only new voter-approved classrooms and buildings, but also a new principal and a whole new way of learning and growing for grades 6-8.

AJB Principal Linda Guzman, a former principal at Patlan Elementary School, says she is excited to be part of creating a new learning culture at the middle school. She says after a very successful Meet the Teacher event on Thursday, she’s not sure if parents are more excited about the building’s new look or the academic changes that will take place today.

“I think it’s just the excitement of the kids to come and see what else is new in the building, the schedule and their new teachers. When they see all this redesign talk, I mean now they’re really going to experience it with their schedule. There is an A schedule. There is a B schedule. The A schedule is Monday through Thursday. They’ll have their normal academic schedule, but Friday is really what we call Toro Grow Time and it’s that Friday experience that students will work through and it’s just going to be a lot of fun,” said Guzman.

The new curriculum design Guzman mentions is a partnership between Seguin ISD and the Texas Education Agency. They work together to implement the System of Great Schools initiative, which provides additional dollars and resources for the middle school.

Announced to the community this Spring, the Systems of Great Schools initiative is basically a complete overhaul of middle school learning, not just at AJB, but will be fully replicated at Barnes Middle School. District officials say that not only will additional instruction time be allocated each school day, but more innovative approaches to learning and behavior management are expected in all three junior high school grades.

Guzman says that the enthusiasm of students and their families for this new approach to learning has really motivated the campus’ efforts to see the program impact every child in the way it is designed.

“You can hear the excitement. The parents talk about it. Students ask what this timetable is for? What is this growth phase for? What is this whole children’s section for? So I think it’s going to be great. You get two first days. You know Monday and Friday again,” Guzman said.

Of course, paralleling what will happen in the classroom is the excitement behind the launch of the school’s newest buildings and renovations, which were approved by voters in May 2019. As part of this $64.7 million bond package, $39 million was provided for AJB’s redevelopment at the current campus site.

Although the entire project won’t be finished until next school year, most of the project is already in place – and already making for a new school feeling. So says Associate Principal Robert Arriola.

“Obviously the safety of the students will always be a priority and we will make sure we have everything safe for our students. What we have completed is our final sixth grade wing. This is done. We have the last seventh grade pod. We have a great new cafeteria, high ceilings, (with) natural light. It’s nice. A new cafeteria (and) theater, so we’re really excited about all of these changes that we’re bringing to our campus and that our students will experience,” said Arriola.

Arriola says while last week families got a glimpse of the uniquely designed classroom structure, it’s the children themselves who will now see how all of these new design features work together for learning.

“We would like to thank our Seguin ISD Board (of Trustees) and our community and taxpayers for allowing us to transform our school. Our children deserve a first class learning environment and we are delighted to provide our students with this and the school was designed so that our classrooms are set up for collaboration, so you have garage doors that open for the classroom to create collaborative spaces to go to – not just for your classroom, but to extend your classroom inside and out. All selected furniture is on wheels for mobility, so things can be moved and shifted. We don’t want kids to be stuck in a classroom all day. We want them to be able to experience (more) – going in and out and merging with other classrooms. So it’s a big difference from how AJB used to be and we’re looking forward to pushing into our final year of construction which will obviously focus on our library, our front office and then our art department, which we’ll be here pretty soon will get at the end of the semester,” said Arriola.

Although it’s on the way to an all-new building, Arriola says many families who recently visited this final phase of the construction project have already been impressed with the work done so far.

“Oh, that’s beautiful. They love it. I’ve had parents come to AJB and say, ‘This isn’t AJB, I came too. Where is the changing center? Where is the outdoor theater and they are really excited to see what their kids will experience. We have a nice high school and they’re excited that their kids are going to go to a nice middle school, so yeah, a lot of parents are really excited about all the changes happening at AJB,” Arriola said.

Among those impressed not only by the building but also by the learning that awaits in the coming school year was Mother Jill Lucker. Lucker, who was present at Meet the Teacher on Thursday, says she couldn’t look forward to her son Wyatt, an incoming sixth grader.

“I love the new schedule. The new Friday (schedule) where they will help them grow and where they can get the extra study time when they need it and actually learn some skills too. All the teachers seem so excited and knowledgeable and it’s like they’re all on the cutting edge of technology now. I’m super impressed,” said Lucker.

Guzman says change is needed to ensure success and progress. She says she is honored to have taken on this responsibility for the AJB campus.

“Wwe turn things around. We have some excellent students here and it’s really about building excellence and I think I have a great team here and we’re going to take this school to the next level. It will take us all away. It will take the community. It will take our parents and our students to work together because they can do it. You can!” said Guzman.

The AJB campus is the final piece of the May 2019 bond offering that is nearing completion. Other projects included in this voter-approved bond issue included construction of a new Matador Stadium and renovations at Jefferson Avenue Elementary School.

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