An artist’s rendering of the new Burke R.O.A.R. Center that is being built at St. Joan Antida High School in Milwaukee. (Submitted photo)

Thanks to a recent grant, work is underway at St. Joan Antida High School (SJA) to create an innovative collaborative learning space that will be “transformational” not only for the students but for the larger community.

“I think this project is going to have a huge impact on the students and larger community of St. Joan’s,” said SJA President Marikris Coryell. “We are so grateful for this grant, which allows us to transform our building. We haven’t done a large capital improvement like this in over 14 years.”

Plans are being finalized now for the Burke R.O.A.R. (which stands for Reach Out and Achieve Results) Center, and work is expected to begin soon and be finished by mid-November.

It was Coryell and SJA Chief Development Officer Joel Censius who took the lead earlier this year on applying for a $375,000 grant from the Burke Foundation, which supports urban education and youth leadership opportunities. Their goal was to transform an underutilized grouping of rooms within the SJA campus into a cutting-edge multi-purpose learning center and gathering area.

“When you look at St. Joan’s, there really is little collaboration space, and education is moving more toward collaboration within the classroom — more hands-on learning,” said Coryell. “St. Joan’s is also moving more towards integration into the Milwaukee professional community so that our students are best prepared for their careers after leaving SJA. We’re looking at it as a space not just for our St. Joan Antida students, but as a means for us to engage more with our parents and others in the neighborhood and the larger Milwaukee community.”

The 3,000-square-foot portion of the building was originally used by the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida, SJA’s founding order, as a nursery when the order ran a daycare center. It later became a music room. “Right now, there’s old terrazzo flooring and tiled walls, and it feels like a classroom from the 1950s,” said Coryell. “The outcome we’re looking for is one that is inviting, (and) one that has carpeting, warmer walls and modular furniture so we can set it up to use for mentoring, tutoring, small-group discussions — or we can clear it out and host large community events.”

SJA also has long-term plans to renovate classroom spaces above the Burke R.O.A.R. Center into the SJA Career Center, which will house a Health Sciences Clinic, a Business Media and Communication Center and an Engineering and IT Lab to support SJA’s new career-focused curriculum.

“St. Joan’s has been in the community for so long, but I really want a more growth-oriented mindset of who we are,” said Coryell. “I want to get us back on the map in a larger way. Having this space is the first piece.”

The Burke Foundation grant also included money for the addition of a full-time social worker to the school’s staff, whose primary responsibility will be to focus on the social/emotional needs of the SJA students. “The demographic we serve comes from a background where there are certain disadvantages,” said Coryell. “They need some more professional help — our guidance counselors in the past have done it, but the students would benefit from having their own social worker. It goes in conjunction with the idea of a collaborative, holistic environment for students to personally grow — and that includes socially and emotionally, as well as academically.”