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Delta Program’s Transition: How an Educational Community Accepts Change

by on January 12, 2019 5:00 AM

STATE COLLEGE — For the 2019-2020 school year, the State College Area School District’s Delta Program will leave the historic Fairmount Building behind and make its long-awaited transition to a new building on the high school campus on Westerly Parkway.

Founded in the fall of 1974 as the Alternative Program, the school has made great strides since to change the public’s view on what it once was. In 1993, consensus from community members and students alike, led to a change in name that better reflected the school’s valued principles that continue to this day.

Since the school’s inception, the program has identified itself with the old building at 154 W. Nittany Ave. Just beyond the downtown area, the building shows off a style almost as unique as the program inside.

“I think the building is a big marker of us as a community,” senior Abby McGuire said. “It’s quirky, weird and old. It’s definitely not a modern building, and that’s how we like it. It doesn’t conform.”

The Fairmount Building, while long past its prime, still stands today, functioning for not only the Delta Program, but the Hearts/Strides and Reclaiming Individual Talent (RIT) programs as well. Whether the other entities will move with Delta is still an unknown factor and a continued aspect of discussion within the school board.

Jon Downs, director of educational alternatives in the State College Area School District, is a big proponent of the move.

“I see this as an opportunity to build more bridges with State High and of course with our middle level program,” Downs said. “Right now we are geographically separated into two entities, and while we will still operate a little differently (in the new building), being able to see a lot more of each other is an added bonus.”

A committee started by students and Downs at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year meets every Tuesday at lunch to discuss the logistics surrounding the move. Bob O’Donnell, SCASD superintendent, and other figures in the community have attended past meetings to share their knowledge with a group of students and teachers.

Gary Masquelier, an English teacher in his 26th year at the Delta Program, said, “What we’re trying to do is make the new building as comfortable and as welcoming as we can to our current students, alums and teachers. We are trying to (following construction deadlines) hang murals, personalize classrooms, bring in plants, etc., to make the rooms seem more welcoming and not so institutional.”

The “Delta way,” as some call it, represents the student voice and diversity of thought throughout the community, and students agree just the fact that the committee exists with such important decisions on the line proves Delta’s purpose and support to involve students wholeheartedly in the moving process.

While the transition is no surprise, the adjustment brings big change to such a small community. For older students, a new setting continues to seem unsettling.

“Fairmount was an essential part of my time at Delta, it helped complete the whole community for me, so to think that future students won’t share that same experience is quite unfortunate to think about,” said McGuire, a third-year Delta student and one of the school board representatives elected for this school year.

And yet the the old Fairmount Building has quirks: tiny doorways, short bathroom stalls, difficulty regulating temperature and lack of accessibility for all students are only some examples of the Delta community’s less-than-perfect facilities in recent years, another factor in the decision to move.

“Obviously this building is dated,” said Downs, director of virtual learning for the school district. “For us to bring this building up to code, it would take six elevators, a whole lot of work and of course the problem of being displaced.”

In the new building, climate control, science labs and other new facilities are a few of the added advantages that have already been determined through the planning process.

A chance to have better communication with State High is also important for the future of the different educational environment.

“I think it would be really neat to have high school students walk over and take learning enrichment classes at Delta,” Masquelier said.

However, one of the biggest reasons for the move, according to Downs, is the logistics surrounding scheduling for Delta students. This past year, at least 75 percent of the students enrolled took classes at some point during the year at State High.

While Delta’s classes are shorter in length than that of the main high school, having separate community-oriented activities, such as Democracy in Action, will continue prevent an exact replication in schedule.

The loss in location seems another factor for the mix of reactions from different community members.

“As far as the philosophy of education goes, I don’t think that’s going to change at all. We are really conscious that we want to maintain a positive attitude wherever we are, but not being in the vicinity of the downtown area will take some time to get used to considering how much community work we do take part in,” Masquelier said.

While construction continues on through the colder months and the new building begins to take shape, change is drawing nearer.

“I think there are a lot of ways for Delta to succeed in a new space. But before that can happen, I think there needs to be sort of a widespread understanding of our new situation,” McGuire said. “Students are going to have to get used to the change before they can really thrive in the new building, and the best way to do that is to jump in with two feet.”

“We always say that Delta means change and I think we have to live by that and not be afraid to make adjustments where we need them. Once we’ve laid that groundwork, we’ll be able to succeed,” Masquelier said.

There will always be questions involving a move of such significance, but in the end a community is not defined by the space in which it resides. It’s the relationship between the students and the teachers, the parents and the alumni; not the building but rather the atmosphere that each part brings together collectively.

“The first day kids walk into that building I want it to feel like home to them,” Downs said. “The message I always want to set forth from now on is that the basis of our operation, our mission, our vision and what we set forth in general is not defined by the walls, but by the people and the culture. And that’s what makes Delta, Delta."

Anjelica Rubin is a Centre County Gazette intern. She is a junior at the Delta Program and the editor-in-chief of State College Area High School’s newspaper, Lions’ Digest.
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