'Making the space great for students' | Students at Rosati-Kain explore new addition

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On the very first day of school, in the very first class period, senior Sarah Nolte staked out her new favorite place at Rosati-Kain High School – the learning commons and adjacent library in the foyer of the school's freshly minted, $4.5 million addition.

She sat at a table in the spacious, airy area -- think HGTV's "open concept" to the extreme -- reading a book and basking in natural light coming through windows facing the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis to the west and a fabulous, brick-paved courtyard to the east.

"I love the library," Nolte said, simply and succinctly.

About a dozen students, including a half-dozen in the glass-walled collaborative room, felt similarly, though the maintenance crew was in scramble-mode getting the commons ready for them. The previous day, Aug. 23, the commons had been cleared of furniture for the blessing and ribbon-cutting, which featured Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

"They're moving the furniture in there this morning, and they can't do it fast enough for the girls to use it," joked Sister Joan Andert, SSND, Rosati-Kain's president.

The courtyard also became a magnet after the doors were unlocked from the commons. First, one student went out to populate the courtyard patio furniture, then another, then three or four, then a steady stream.

"They're out there feeling at home," Sister Joan said. "The girls aren't going to be shy about taking advantage of the opportunities."

The three-story addition is the centerpiece of the school's facility upgrades. In addition to the learning commons/library on the first floor, it has a spacious chemistry lab on the second floor and a large incubator space on the third. "Incubator space" is a fancy way of saying "much-needed space for extra-curricular activities."

Rosati-Kain's robot from the FIRST competition takes up a corner of the room, with the rest available for multiple uses, such as play practice, set-building, Mass, you name it. A large wooden cross makes its home in the room as well. And the addition has an elevator to make the entire school accessible.

Space and access had been issues at Rosati-Kain, but not anymore thanks to the school's first addition since 1941, Pearl Harbor Day to be exact when the gymnasium was dedicated on the east side of the building. A convent was built in the 1960s, but it was razed for the addition.

The addition encompasses 12,000-square foot, with a like amount in the 1920s main building renovated and reshaped. The students returned to an updated and larger physics lab, new labs for publications, video and digital, renovated classrooms and suite/offices for administration, including guidance counseling and advancement services. And a new gift shop -- Kougar Kloset.

The students started making the space their own from the get-go, with returning sophomores, juniors and seniors adjusting to the new digs, and freshmen moving in for the first time to what just seemed like normal to them, in a manner of speaking.

"It's lot different from from grade school," said Destiny Young, a St. Roch School graduate who described the first day of high school as "stressful, but exciting."

In the new chem lab, veteran teacher Karen Daues gave the students a test -- yep, a test on Day One, but un-graded to determine the students' knowledge coming in. They sat on purple chairs at two-seat tables "that are really nice," Nolte said. "Last year, we had tiny desks."

Sister Joan clearly enjoyed the first day of school, watching the students take over the spaces.

"That's what it's all about, making the space great for the students," said Sister Joan, who figures she has spent half of her life at Rosati-Kain -- first as a student, then as a teacher and now as an administrator. "The students are really excited about this; it's good to have them back."

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