BArT's Campus Improvements Paying Off
ADAMS, Mass. — All the physical changes at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School are paying big dividends, school officials say.
From the science lab to the new gymnasium and cafeteria wing to the remodeling of the former "cafegymatorium," it has been a busy few years on the Commercial Street campus.
Last week at BArT's annual fall breakfast, Executive Director Julia Bowen explained how the school's physical transformation is helping improve the program at the Grade 6-12 school.
"In the past, students have had to make unfortunate decisions about leaving BArT [after middle school]," Bowen said, referring to students' desire to pursue the extracurricular options offered at traditional high schools. "We wanted to make extracurriculars part of the school for students to be engaged here so they don't have to make that unfortunate choice.
"I'm glad to see we're seeing much greater retention. In this year's ninth grade, we had 20 more students than we expected, which is a great problem to have."
Bowen made her remarks in the gymnasium/theater space that was the centerpiece of the expansion completed last year.
The gym will help BArT develop its athletic offerings as it expands competitive opportunities through participation in the River Valley Athletic League. The stage opens a world of opportunities to students interested in the performing arts.
One such student is freshman Caitlin Terpak of Pittsfield, who last Friday spoke to a crowd that included school trustees, benefactors and invited guests like state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield.
Terpak told how BArT's theater group used to rehearse plays in a classroom and perform in the cafegymatorium, now known as the atrium.
Now, the theater program has significantly upgraded to a full stage with additional performance space on the gym floor. And a strong theater program has helped Terpak grow as a student.
"Definitely, doing drama helps me in class with having more confidence in myself," she said. "I've learned things about myself. I know what I struggle with and what kind of strategies I can use to help me get better."
Likewise, the expanding athletic program, which now includes soccer and basketball along with cross country and ultimate Frisbee, helps make well-rounded students.
"I've seen people who are into soccer become more attentive in class," sophomore Kyle Brooks of Adams said. "It helps me in my academic classes because I'm more focused and better able to work in a group."
Brooks was able to joke about the school's limited success on the playing field — so far.
"Last year, just starting out, we didn't win a game," he said. "This year, we were really determined, really worked hard, and we still didn't win a game. But we tied one."
BArT has a more established tradition of success in the classroom.
Since 2008, every senior who has graduated from BArT has been accepted to a college or secondary program — a testament to the school's emphasis on college preparation from day one.
In terms of standardized tests, Bowen was able to point to 2012 and '15, when 100 percent of the school's sophomores score proficient or advanced on both the English language arts and math sections of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam.
"The science lab is showing results with students," Bowen said. "Ninety-four percent scored advanced or proficient in science [on the most recent MCAS exam]. That's the highest percentage in the county."
In addition to the direct benefit of gymnasium and cafeteria addition, it had the indirect benefit of freeing up the atrium for BArT's new maker space with a 3D printer and computer numerical control equipment.
Currently, the school serves 350 students in seven grades. Most come from Northern Berkshire County and Pittsfield, though there are 15 communities represented in the student body.
Before sending the Friday morning crowd off on student-led tours of the school, Bowen said how exciting it was to have a facility that gives that student population room to grow.
"In 2004, when we opened, we opened in a tiny corner of Mount Greylock High School in Williamstown," Bowen said. "It's exciting to welcome you here to this new facility. It's a whole different world."
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