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WF's newest school opens in Fargo

Willow Park Elementary Principal Ethan Ehlert talks about the library space at the new school opening at 4901 15th Ave. S. in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum1 / 6
Abdirahman Shugri and Josef Ngafua, both students in Jennifer Grund's classroom, greet each other on first day of school at the new Willow Park Elementary in Fargo.David Samson / The Forum2 / 6
The new Willow Park Elementary is at 4901 15th Ave. S. in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum3 / 6
Students arrive for the first day of school at the new West Fargo School District's Willow Park Elementary in Fargo.David Samson / The Forum4 / 6
Willow Park Elementary third-grade teacher Molly Boe writes on her active board while gearing up for the first day of class. David Samson / The Forum5 / 6
Students arrive for the first day of school at the new West Fargo School District's Willow Park Elementary in Fargo.David Samson / The Forum6 / 6

Willow Park Elementary School is surrounded by urban development, but inside, West Fargo's newest elementary school is decorated by green with an abundance of natural lighting, a pointed contrast designers planned for the school that will be home to the district's first Welcome Center.

District officials planned to centralize services for New Americans — or students who lived in the U.S. for less than one year — when planning Willow Park, which was built as part of a 2015 $98 million school bond.

Students who are New Americans from across the district will make use of Willow Park's Welcome Center, which expects about 14 students.

Also, Willow Park will be home to five English Language teachers along with the four Welcome Center teachers.

English Language teachers had been located throughout the district and were most recently housed at Lodoen Kindergarten Center but now all will now be housed at Willow Park.

The school at 4901 15th Ave. S. in Fargo will open its doors to about 475 students for the first time on Tuesday, Aug. 28.

Willow Park is the first school in West Fargo to have a high number of students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. District officials expected about 60 percent or more of the student population will qualify for the low-income program.

Many of the students who will attend Willow Park this year will now be within walking distance of the school. Prior to the school's opening, students had been bussed to Westside Elementary, 945 7th Ave. W., West Fargo.

Willow Park Elementary Principal Ethan Ehlert said the kindergarten through fifth grade elementary will have four classrooms each for grades one through five.

However, since more than 1,000 kindergartners registered in the district, Willow Park will have five kindergarten classrooms.

Looking in

The four-track school, which means the school has at least four classrooms for each grade, has a capacity of 550 students.

Ehlert said the new elementary school "definitely has a green theme," as shades of green and blue sky dominate.

"We have lots of collaborative spaces not only inside the classroom but outside the classrooms as well," Ehlert said.

Each classroom is designed with multiple seating options that include chairs that can fit individual children's needs. Tables inside the classroom can be easily rearranged and pushed together for large- or small-group work.

"No two rooms are identical," Ehlert said.

Third grade teacher Jen Kusler, who has taught at four other schools, was excited to have a variety of seating options for her students that deviated from the standard school desks.

"I always wanted to try flexible seating and it's fun to come into a building where it's the norm," she said. "The kids are really excited for it."

The building has energy saving features that allow lights to turn off and on automatically and can be adjusted from light to dim.

"So we're saving money for everybody," Ehlert said.

Ehlert said the majority of the teachers that will begin this fall at Willow Park requested a transfer to the new school.

Inside the library, which has an open design with large wood beams accentuating the ceiling, nearly 7,000 books already line the shelves.

Outside, the city of Fargo and surrounding business community have joined Willow Park to create features that can be used by all, such as planned fitness equipment that will soon join the playground equipment just outside the school.

"We want to establish ourselves as a member of the community here, not only with parents and students but with businesses as well," Ehlert said.

The city of Fargo installed speed bumps near the school and last week finished a four-way stop southeast of the school at 48th Street.

Willow Park is the West Fargo School District's third school to be built inside the city of Fargo. Osgood Elementary School is at 5550 44th Ave S, Fargo, and Independence Elementary is at 3700 54th St. S., Fargo.

The West Fargo School District includes residents of West Fargo, Horace, Harwood, Reile's Acres and parts of Fargo.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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