HENDERSON — When Hilltop Elementary School was built, in 1973, its layout was driven by an “open classroom” model that encouraged collaboration. There were no walls; it was just one huge room.
Since then, temporary walls have been installed and it’s no longer an open classroom school, but something of the spirit behind that one-room schoolhouse model has been re-created at Hilltop.
“We’re a small family, we’re a small village,” Principal Christine Fischer said.
Though many elementary schools could make a similar claim, Hilltop’s recent history shows it to be more than words.
In the fall of 2012, the Le Sueur Henderson school district reconfigured its two elementary schools, Park and Hilltop. They were changed from K-5 schools to one K-3 school and one, Hilltop, that held primarily fourth and fifth graders.
The district spent about $85,000 to make facility improvements to Hilltop, which more than doubled in size to 160 children, Hanson said. The creation of lessons and other curriculum cost perhaps $40,000, he said.
In some areas, like reading and math, the students are separated into age-appropriate classrooms. In others, such as science, the grades are merged.
Of course, all this merging and community-mindedness is to some extent a means to an academic end. In Hilltop’s case, it's a special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, commonly reduced to the acronym “STEM.”
Like most elementary schools, Hilltop has daily blocks of time devoted to literacy and math. What makes it different is that the grades are mixed every day, from 2 to 3 p.m., for STEM instruction.
But that’s not to say that STEM is relegated to the end of the school day, Supt. Rich Hanson said. A hallmark of their STEM program is that it’s infused in other areas.
“What’s significant is how we incorporate our reading and math with STEM,” he said, “how those are blended together.”