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Country Day breaks seal on brand-new middle school complex

The 30,000-square-foot, two-story middle-school complex houses 16 general-purpose classrooms, four science labs and classrooms and administrative offices, as well as specially designed spaces for choral, orchestra, dance and computer classes.

Additionally, a new library and academic center is currently under construction, with completion anticipated the beginning of the 2007-'08 school year.

La Jolla Country Day School is a non-profit college preparatory school serving 1,038 students in nursery through grade 12 from throughout San Diego County.

Country Day’s new middle school complex is the product of more than six years of planning.

“The truth is, it’s been needed for a longer time than it’s been planned,” said Christopher Schuck, Country Day’s associate head of school. “It’s been six years on the radar. It was built in 10 months.”

The middle school complex was part of a campus master plan laid out by a committee of La Jolla Country Day School board members and parents. It is the first major expansion of Country Day’s middle school facilities since the school was relocated to its present site at 9490 Genesee Ave. The school now known as La Jolla Country Day School received its charter in 1955 and moved to its current location in 1961.

Schuck said middle school classes at Country Day previously were spread throughout campus.

“There wasn’t anything that visually or structurally spoke to the middle school as an entity unto itself,” he said. “Now with three buildings built around green space, we have the middle school village on the east side of campus.”

Science teacher Susanne Schissel said the new middle school’s science lab facilities are state of the art and will greatly facilitate one of the science department’s missions: to teach students to be lifelong learners.

“We now have four labs,” said Schissel. “We only had three before, and they were smaller. There’s a lot more room in these, and they’re really high-tech. My room is a pilot of how we’re going to set up all the labs. We do have all the tools that we need now and all the space that we need now to really do it right.”

New science labs have ceiling-mounted projectors with wireless computer connections. Use of the Internet in science labs allows students to go beyond their textbooks to acquire information.

“A textbook is only as current as its publication date,” noted Schissel. “The Internet allows you to get real-time data and allows you to make connections with the scientific community.”

At Country Day, science is taught with a less traditional approach. Schissel said there are ways to assess students’ progress other than standard tests and quizzes.

“We’re into more conceptualized learning,” she said, “as opposed to just teaching kids a bunch of facts to memorize. Kids really have to discover things for themselves.”

La Jolla Country Day School traces its beginnings to The Balmer School, founded in 1926, by Louise Balmer in a small cottage on Coast Boulevard serving four primary school children. The Balmer School expanded, eventually holding kindergarten through fifth-grade classes in what formerly was John Cole’s Book Shop on Prospect Street.

Nearly three decades later, Balmer and a group of dedicated parents saw the need for an independent day school which would include Middle and Upper School classes as well.

Country Day School eighth-grader Lauren Birks said she’s pleased with the new middle school complex.

“The old middle school was great,” she said, “but it’s been there for 40 years, and it was time for a change. Now we’ve got new science labs, a dance studio, orchestra and music rooms, and all new technology. It’s a big upgrade since last year.”