by SARAH SQUIRES
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But to train aspiring teachers to connect with and educate children in a rapidly changing world? That will take a village, too.
Last weekend, Winona State University (WSU) officials, along with community and state leaders, gathered at the site of the university’s new Education Village to christen the project with a formal groundbreaking ceremony. The more than $30-million project includes the renovation and remodeling of the former Cathedral Elementary School, Wabasha Hall, and Wabasha Recreation Center, transforming the space into a state-of-the-art learning and teaching hub for WSU’s College of Education.
The project is not new; in fact, it is grounded in a $5-million Bush Foundation grant from a decade ago that aided WSU in revamping its College of Education curriculum and offerings. The first phase of Education Village was funded in 2014 by the state’s bonding bill, which provided $5.9 million to jump start the renovation and planning. After some near misses for the $25.3 million that would fully fund the Education Village initiative, the state secured the funds. On Saturday, a crowd celebrated, ceremonial shovels were hefted, and local and state leaders lauded the project that promises to make WSU’s program one of the best, anywhere.
“We consider Education Village a philosophy,” said WSU Dean of Education Tarrell Portman. Education Village will include early education and a care center in the first floor of the former Wabasha Recreation Center building, while teaching students will study on the upper floors. This will give students the chance to interact with young learners every day, and that early exposure is the best way to ensure all the education program students are on the right path. “Classrooms will come to life,” Portman added. Watkins Manor is nearby, which will truly allow for intergenerational learning opportunities. “We actually have lifelong learning, which is the mission of WSU,” she said.
State Representative Gene Pelowski spoke of his studies at WSU, along with his mother and father, his wife, his brother, and his son and his son’s wife. He said the project honors the history of education in Winona — WSU served as the state’s first Normal School, and began training teachers in 1858 — the same year Minnesota became a state. We are taking old buildings and rehabilitating them for modern use, said Pelowski, adding that no one else in the state was following this path and that Education Village should serve as an example for everyone. We don’t need to build new buildings and tear down old ones, he said. “Teachers will have a legacy of 150 years,” he noted.
“This project stands on bedrock,” stated WSU President Scott Olson, pointing again to WSU’s legacy of teacher education. “This is a project about taking assets the community has and rejuvenating them for the future … With the birth of Minnesota was the idea that great teachers would be prepared in Minnesota, and that they would be in Winona,” he said. “I believe that this project will help transform the way we train future educators.”