Students take virtual look at new BVP Mayoral Academy High School

Students take virtual look at new BVP Mayoral Academy High School

Building architect Stephen Zuber points to classrooms in the new Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy High School building as he leads a tour for students and teachers on June 22. While the site is under construction, project architects provided virtual reality equipment allowing a simulated experience of the school. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

CUMBERLAND – On June 22, a picture-perfect beach day, 15 or so Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy High School students looked into their future.

Clad in hard hats and safety glasses, they donned virtual reality goggles programmed with two 360-degree images of a new high school being built on Jones Street in Cumberland. A “small but mighty group” attended the field trip, said Jeremy Chiappetta, BVP’s executive director, while many students remained at school to complete assignments for the year.

The upcoming school year will be a year of BVP firsts, including its first senior class and, sometime in November, its first permanent home for the high school, which now occupies the former St. Joan of Arc parish school.

“It’s interesting to see how technology can be incorporated with the new building. … I like seeing how it will all turn out,” said rising senior Melannie Munera-Goez, of Cumberland, who watched the virtual reality tours on a computer monitor set up at the site. A BVP student since 5th grade, Munera-Goez is eager to share the new high school with approximately 320 fellow classmates this fall.

After removing the goggles, Blessing Oyedele, a rising sophomore from Pawtucket, said, “It felt like a dream … (and) it looked so realistic.” Persistent sounds of workers cutting and installing metal studs into the building muffled her comments.

An image of an oversized, orange “R” appears on a wall of the media commons, one of two virtual reality images. The “pride” of BVP stands for perseverance, respect, integrity, discipline and enthusiasm, said Chiappetta. Graphics of each of the letters comprising “pride” and an explanation of what the value represents will appear throughout the building, said project manager Stephen Zuber, of Boston-based architecture firm Arrowstreet, so students and faculty can explore what they mean to the school.

The second virtual image depicted the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Corridor, with two science labs, an art room, with glass doors opening to the hallway, and “makerspace,” where members of the BVP community can gather to share knowledge and resources, work on projects, network and build.

“I was really blown away to … immediately be transported into our future hallways,” said Chiappetta. Of his virtual reality experience, he added, “We older folks were wowed, and the youth seemed less blown away, probably because their lives are so much more digital.”

Because BVP has “a very college-focused culture,” the new building will have the look and feel of a college campus, said Mike DeMatteo, BVP’s chief operating officer.

“We made the entire space to feel pre-collegiate; it’s a nice physical gateway to the next step for students,” added Zuber. In addition to the media commons (the library) and the STEAM Corridor, the new 40,000-square-foot building will include several core classrooms, a gymnasium, music room, cafeteria and common area.

BVP has a 30-year lease for the property with Civic Builders, a nonprofit New York City-based company, which, Chiappetta explained, has both the necessary expertise and capital. H.V. Collins, of Providence, is the general contractor.

The skeleton structure is complete, and construction workers are preparing to install the ground floor slab and have installed approximately 25 percent of the exterior façade, said Zuber. The school’s exterior will have a cedar paneling base, a nod to Cumberland’s industrial history, and above that, a pale gray lap siding, which has a residential look.

Calling the project “a very good thing for the local community,” Zuber said the Jones Street site had been an abandoned site full of trash and weeds.

“It’s very much a catalyst … and will reinvigorate the community,” he said. The property will include soccer fields, parking, exercise equipment and signage to introduce visitors to the nearby access to Blackstone River Bikeway, which, said DeMatteo, “adds community bandwidth.”

Ray Rogers, a rising senior from Pawtucket who wants to study engineering, looks forward to a permanent high school home and the new soccer field. Last year, the team played soccer on Davies Field in Lincoln, which the defender called, “not the best field to play on. Having an actual soccer field will be exciting … we’re not the biggest team or the best team, but we’re definitely improving.”

Just as this field trip was atypical, so, too, is BVP. The free public charter school enrolls students from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket, and some 65 percent of them receive free or reduced lunch, said Chiappetta. At BVP, with a “100 percent opportunity on college and career focus,” one junior scored a perfect SAT math score, about 40 students took at least one Advanced Placement course, including AP calculus, and a half-dozen students are participating in Community College of Rhode Island’s Running Start program, where students earn a year of college credits while enrolled in high school, said Chiappetta.

Students are accepted by lottery. With 2,010 applications for 224 new seats for entering kindergartners this past school year, Chiappetta said, “The odds are long … and that’s bittersweet.” He credits the school’s desirability to three factors:

• A great focus on mission.

• Phenomenal teachers who are supported.

• And roughly 20 percent more learning time than in a traditional school.

Even the construction project is a learning opportunity. PARE Engineering staff came to BVP a few weeks ago to lead sessions describing engineering career opportunities. If all goes well, a couple of students will get internships on the construction site this summer, said Chiappetta.

Sophomore Blessing Oiedele, of Pawtucket, takes advantage of a virtual reality tour of the new high school on June 22.
BlackStone Valley Prep students and staff check out the construction progress on the new high school building on Jones Street in Cumberland.