HUDSON — Bold changes are underway as the school year begins at Western Reserve Academy Day and Boarding School.

The school, which teaches grades nine through 12, has begun an extensive renovation of its main classroom building, Seymour Hall. The $14 million project will restore and modernize Seymour, which first opened in 1916.

"Our intent is that Seymour’s timeless, simple elegance will always remain," stated Head of School Christopher D. Burner. "But inside the building, our students will receive a cutting-edge classical education as we undergo the single largest transformation of our academic program in the school’s history."

The Seymour Hall project, fully funded through alumni, parents and friends of the school, will increase the number of classrooms in Seymour to 29 and update 33,000 square feet of dedicated classroom space to enable the progressive learning environment that is earning the school accolades from independent school leaders.

Significant construction is also taking place beneath Seymour Hall, according to information provided by the school. Underneath a broad patch of land across from the building, borehole wells are being drilled into the earth to implement a geothermal heating and cooling system. This marks the second geothermal project on campus this summer; the first was completed during the renovation of President’s House, which was constructed in 1830 and is the oldest building on campus, which has just re-opened as the school’s new admission office.

The geothermal system taps into the earth’s surface for warmth or cold, using an earth loop, according to information provided by the school. An earth loop system circulates a water-based solution through high-density polyethylene pipes that transfer heat to or from the building, no matter what the season.

When the thermostats in the buildings are turned up, the geothermal heat pumps will pull heat from deep in the ground. As the heat is extracted, it is distributed through a conventional duct system and released into the buildings. When the thermostats are turned down, the opposite happens. Warm air is pulled from the buildings and pushed into the earth, and that warmth is later borrowed when the seasons change.

The impetus for geothermal for the building projects on campus were generous donors Sherry and Marty Franks who said, "We hope students can study the system and experience a real-world example of environmental responsibility."

Curriculum evolves

This summer, Burner, Associate Head of School Kate Mueller, and Director of Information and Education Technology Matt Gerber traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the National Association of Independent Schools and a small group of top schools who are transforming their curricula, according to information from the school.

"Western Reserve Academy transitions to a new curriculum that will bring greater flexibility and creativity to the classroom, offer 75-minute classes for deeper learning, and encourage optimization of the school’s 6,000 square-foot makerspace, The Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity," said Meg Colafella, Director of Communications and Marketing. "All freshmen will learn to optimize our 6,000-square-foot makerspace, The Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity, in two new classes, Learning to Code and Learning to Make. From the ethos of innovation, creativity and risk-taking, to programming skills and app creation, our students will gain a depth of understanding about all that drives the digital world."

With the new curriculum, WRA also becomes the first independent school in the region to move beyond Advanced Placement courses, in favor of independent College Level courses, according to information provided by the school. Students may still take AP exams on the WRA campus, but WRA’s new College Level classes are designed to exceed what Advanced Placement offers by providing in-depth modern coursework that challenges students at the highest levels.

"Our commitment to building foundational knowledge remains steadfast, but our eye is on the future as well as the present," said Mueller. "Our intent is to nurture a lifelong love of learning through diverse and challenging courses like cancer immunology, digital engineering and fabrication, pathobiology, philosophy, topics in Latin literature and mediating globalization. We have every confidence that our students will soar."

Beginning this school year, boarders began to arrive on campus Aug. 12, and the first day of classes for all is Aug. 21.

"WRA is the only boarding school in the region," Colafella said. "We also admit day students, who comprise approximately 35 percent of our total student body. The school was founded in 1826 and has 400 students – our average class size is 12 students. We have many traditions and routines that unite the entire student body, from twice weekly all-school meetings in our historic chapel, to formal sit-down meals, to an athletic requirement that means every student participates in sports. Some families prefer a school day that starts with classes and ends after athletics. Other day students arrive early on campus for breakfast and stay until our study hours end at 9:45 p.m. We offer the flexibility that works for every family."

For details, call 330-650-4400 or visit https://www.wra.net online.

Top rankings

Western Reserve Academy also released the results from Niche.com’s ranking of schools. According to the school and Niche.com, Western Reserve Academy was ranked the first out of five in best boarding schools in Ohio; first of 131 in best college prep private high schools in Ohio; first out of 155 in best high schools for STEM in Ohio; first of 101 in best private schools in Ohio; and sixth of 167 in most diverse private high schools in Ohio. Nationally, it was ranked 26 of 264 in best boarding high schools, and 82 of 3,497 best private high schools.

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