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Students Weigh in On What’s Most Important in the Design of Belton ISD’s Next Elementary Footprint

Belton ISD leaders consulted with “experts” on Wednesday about what’s most important in the design of the district’s next elementary school prototype. 

The 17 experts — all third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the district — spent the day at the Administration Building letting their voices be heard.

“You’re going to be designers today which means you’ll have to listen, observe and collaborate,” Mike Boyle, principal architect with Huckabee Architects, told the group. “This is very important work.”

The Board of Trustees authorized the hiring of Huckabee Architects in June to create designs for a potential new school. It was a move to get ahead of projected growth in the district. Enrollment projections show three of the district’s elementary schools will exceed capacity in the next three years. The most recent elementary prototype was completed in 2006, prior to the construction of Tarver Elementary.

A team of parents, teachers and staff met in August and September to provide their thoughts on the design. Superintendent Dr. Matt Smith wanted to go further.

“What we do on a daily basis is supposed to impact students,” he said. “Who is better to guide our work than our students?”

The student group began Wednesday by reading If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen to get their creative juices flowing. Then Boyle led the students through an exercise to gauge their preferences on design options for spaces like classrooms, playgrounds, libraries and cafeterias.

“We gave them three stickers — more, meh and less — and told them to mark the photos hanging around the room with their feeling toward it,” said Dr. Cassandra Spearman, executive director of student services. “Afterward we were able to talk through the choices as a group to get a better understanding of their thinking.”

Next the students toured nearby campuses — the Belton Early Childhood School and New Tech High School @ Waskow — to get a sense of the learning spaces and amenities at those schools.

After lunch, the students split into four teams to participate in a collaborative design charrette where they arranged scaled cut-outs of classrooms and support spaces into their ideal layouts. Students had to consider what rooms should be next to each other and which should be farther apart, window and natural light options and where restrooms should be located.

“I feel like there should be more stalls,” said Aliyah Davis, a third grader at Charter Oak Elementary. “Usually whenever my class takes a bathroom break, a bunch of girls would usually have to wait.”

Dori Sawyer was looking for ways to incorporate space to be more active in her design.

“I would like more places to move around and just get your wiggles out,” said Sawyer, a Tarver Elementary fifth grader.

Grayson Fogelle, a fourth grader at High Point Elementary, recommended modern elements be included.

“We need solar panels,” he said. “I just want natural energy.”

At the end of the day of hard work and dreaming, district leaders were pleased with the results.

“Anytime we can stop and hear what students think, I’m never disappointed,” Smith said. “They will amaze you with their ideas and insights. You just have to ask for it — and listen.”

View photos from the day at

Oct. 7, 2021