When students arrive Monday for classes at Centennial Middle School in South Miami-Dade, they will see many of the traditional trappings of education. There will be long corridors, freshly waxed floors and the echo of new voices in stairwells.
But tucked away on the second and third floors, completed in a matter of months, is something new: A set of rooms that are part classroom, part brainstorming session.
Gone are the traditional, neutral-toned walls and tidy rows of desks. In their place are a giant work area, pained in pink, yellow and green, nooks with cozy furniture and, for the hungry, a kitchen nearby.
It’s part of iPrep, one of three specialized programs within Centennial this year as it opens up and begins its transition from a middle school to a senior high school. This year its students will be seventh- through ninth-graders.
And Centennial’s iPrep is among the dozens of new specializations debuting at various Miami-Dade public schools this year, with focuses ranging from to finance to technology to the arts.
Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho visitied the campus Sunday and called the programs part of the district’s “demand-driven reform,” giving students and parents more choices.
At Centennial, 8601 SW 212th St., students will be in one of three programs, which are called academies.
One is the Centennial Ocean Academy of Science and Technology, also known as COAST, which teaches marine and environmental studies.
The second is Liberal Arts, which focuses on the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.
And the third is iPrep, which takes students outside the traditional classroom using innovative spaces and technology. It encourages independent work, and every student receives a laptop computer to use at school and at home.
The school also is working on certification for its Cambridge Program, a rigorous college-preparation curriculum similar to the International Baccalaureate program, said principal Yamila Carballo.
In the new area, three walls separating classrooms were torn down to create a single working space. It was repainted and fitted with different breakout areas so students can collaborate in whatever way works best. When they get hungry, they can shift over to the iCafe.
Also included in the improvements were renovated traditional classrooms and four new science labs, said Victor Alonso, the school district’s administrative director of design and sustainability.
The changes were made through a partnership of the Miami-Dade school district and town of Cutler Bay. Earlier this year, the town agreed to put about $2.7 million toward Centennial’s renovations and programs.
This year, Centennial gave up its sixth grade to Cutler Ridge Middle School and gained ninth graders. Next year, Centennial will turn over seventh grade to Cutler Ridge and gain 10th graders.
Eventually, the two schools will form one campus covering students from the sixth through 12th grades, with Centennial as the upper school.
Among the school’s first class of ninth-graders is 14-year-old Livan Bec, who will be part of the iPrep program. “I thought it was just a normal school,” Bec said, “Now there’s an exciting high school.”