In one lab, students view a replication of the crime scene from the O.J. Simpson murder trial. In another, they draw blood from mannequins.
In a planetarium, they look up at a domed screen that displays hundreds of stars.
Marist High School recently unveiled its new science wing to start the 2019-20 school year, celebrating 10 new labs to go with the 30-seat planetarium.
The new two-story, 28,000-square-foot construction is named Monastery Hall, as it was built in the former monastery of the Marist Brothers.
As she instructed students during the first week of class on Aug. 23, teacher Carrie Spano, the school’s science department curriculum coordinator who assisted in planning the wing, said she is impressed.
“The past two days, having taught students in it, space really does transform learning,” Spano said. “It is so awesome. Collaboration is happening more naturally now because we’re at tables. It is very student centered. They’re focusing on one another, rather than the teacher, which has been a huge shift in education.”
According to school officials, the project cost is $15 million, and $12.5 million has been provided. Funds come from donations, officials said, not tuition.
The wing has laboratories for anatomy and physiology, physics, forensics, chemistry and environmental science.
Spano, who teaches forensics and chemistry, said the addition makes classes run much more efficiently. Teachers previously had to sign up to use lab space or utilize the hallway, where recreating a crime scene with cones blocking off evidence disrupted students going to class.
The new forensics lab features a glassed-off section highlighting the Simpson murder trial, with mannequins of the victims, Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, lying side by side, as they were found in June 1994.
Spano, who has been at Marist for 11 years, said teachers weren’t able to recreate crime scenes often because they didn’t want to inconvenience other classes, but that’s changed.
“Now, we have a designated area from a crime scene,” Spano said. “Everything we teach, we can relate right back to the crime scene that students can literally turn around and look at and process and pull evidence from and analyze.”
The anatomy lab features two mannequins—Hal, an adult, and Tory, an infant, that officials said are “essentially computers.” Students can use them to diagnose medical conditions, draw blood, take blood pressure and perform CPR.
A large touchscreen tablet outside the lab features an image of a human body with which students can interact.
Spano said the space helps teachers better instruct students.
“It’s taking anatomy class to a whole new level,” Spano said. “They [previously] gave them scenarios, and now, we can actually play out those scenarios.”
She also said the physics lab improves efficiency. The tables in the room are easily movable, so students can perform experiments in the classroom.
“We purposely picked tables because they need open space, so they can race cars and launch marbles,” Spano said. “They used to do it in the hallways, and we’d interrupt other people’s classes because there was never enough space. Now, the tables do exactly what we need them to do. They can move out of the way, and we can have 1,400 square feet of open space.”
The labs also provide access to outdoor space, Spano said, so physics students can perform experiments such as egg drops and rocket launches.
In the future, Spano said, environmental science students might grow crops outside.
Teacher Kevin Butler is leading astronomy classes in the planetarium, and he said the school opened three sections of classes after originally planning two because interest from students was so high.
Spitz, Inc., which designed the Adler Planetarium, helped create Marist’s dome, which Butler calls “Baby Adler.”
He can show how the sun moves across the sky in Chicago at any point during the day, as well as the billions of stars and other heavenly bodies visible from Earth.
He said students are already better understanding how much matter is in outer space, adding meaning to the images they’ve seen from NASA’s Hubbel and Kepler telescopes.
“I finished my three sections [Aug. 23], and they were just blown away,” said Butler, a Class of 2005 graduate who has taught at Marist for 11 years. “I was blasting music when they came on in, and they were like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’”
Spano said the wing was designed after Marist officials visited colleges and medical schools.
Junior John McKenna, of Evergreen Park, said that effort is apparent.
“You walk in, and it feels like a college,” McKenna said. “Once you walk back out, it’s just so much different.”
Sophomore Kelly Sheehan, of Mt. Greenwood, said the space is energizing.
“It’s nice coming into a different type of class,” she said, “instead of all the regular classrooms.”
Students can stay put at their workstations instead of going from a classroom to a lab for an experiment.
“You’ve got your own sink; you’ve got your own everything,” McKenna said. “There’s a lot more supplies.”
The wing also features a coral reef aquarium donated by Romney Cirillo, a Class of 2004 graduate who works for Something Fishy, Inc., as well as storage space and meeting space for teachers.
Each lab features an eight-foot glass wall insert, so students can see their peers at work, and religious quotes are displayed on the glass as the school emphasizes the relationship between faith and science.
Former science lab space has been turned into department offices for math, religion and the advancement office.
Fox and Fox Architects, Henry Bros. Construction Company, Jones Lang LaSalle Real Estate Company and Quattrocki Landscaping assisted in the project.
Br. Hank Hammer, Marist’s president, said Marist Brothers once lived in vacant science rooms at the school—now, the school has come full circle with students occupying the former monastery.
He said the new wing is better than school officials ever imagined.
“We’re amazed,” Hammer said. “It’s exceeded our expectations.”