Changes for the better

THIS 1971 Tracy Headlight Herald file photo depicts the open-style classroom format at the Tracy Area Elementary School.

Tracy’s 50-year-old grade school building has

been transformed in major ways since it opened

By Per Peterson

From the outside, the building appears the same. Take a look inside the Tracy Area Elementary School building, however, and there are some very noticeable differences from when it opened in 1971.

Fifty years ago this week, an open house took place for what then was a brand-new school featuring an open-space concept, which was a far cry from the previous multi-level facility. The 56,713 square-foot building, originally overseen by principal Vernon Grinde, was constructed at a cost of just over $1 million.

As published in the Thursday, Oct. 21, 1971, edition of the Tracy Headlight Herald, the two-section, 24-room building was home to 545 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade (today’s enrollment, with transitional kindergarten is 320). The highlight of the building — and something that was totally new to Tracy — was that open-space concept surrounding the resource center. The openness was designed to foster independence among students, and provide them easy access to all areas in the north wing of the building, as well as the opportunity to move freely about the school.

Janel Rau was a third-grade teacher in 1971, just getting her feet wet after graduating from Mankato State University. She had seen an open concept at a school in Rosemount during her senior year of college, but had yet to experience it first-hand until arriving in town.

“That was my first teaching job,” said Rau, who like her colleagues at the time, taught every subject. “I thought it was so exciting to be in a brand-new building and what an awesome opportunity I had to be in my first job in such a special place. I couldn’t get over the openness of it.”

Rau said the open concept in the classrooms was not only well-received by the students, it worked. While one might think the distractions of having one large room full of nothing but space and students would be a deterrent to learning, it didn’t turn out that way in her experience.

“The kids were respectful of each other,” Rau said. “Today it sounds funny to say that the kids were very attentive, but they really were.”

Rau’s first class had 27 students in it, and she can’t remember a time when the open concept was a detriment to learning.

“It was, I suppose a little challenging — I’m trying to do a reading lesson and someone else is doing a social studies lesson — but the kids, they just adapted to it,” said Rau. “I even remember trying to bring some music into my classroom, but I would take the kids out to the media center so we weren’t quite so loud. But we would do some singing.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.