Thomas Jefferson High School Celebrates ‘Homecoming’

After more than three years, students return to tornado-damaged campus

At the start of the new semester, Thomas Jefferson High School seniors moved back to the campus destroyed in the tornado October of their freshman year.

A “homecoming” if you will.

Those seniors, along with freshmen through juniors who make up a student body of 1,500, are reinhabiting the Thomas Jefferson campus after a few years of learning at the former Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center.

Principal Benjamin Jones, who’s been leading Thomas Jefferson since June 2021, said the issue of “geography” hindered student engagement and parents’ ability to be involved as the commute to the temporary campus could be as long as 30 minutes.

When making building-related decisions, campus leaders used a futuristic lens to “build to what we will need in the future,” instead of accommodating only students enrolled now. The campus has a capacity of 2,200 to 2,300 students and is already growing as students transfer back to Thomas Jefferson after a hiatus.

Some of the new building’s highlights:

• A new library, which was built with the help of a $300,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation

• A large kiln room and “art porch” in the courtyard

• A gym that can hold the full student body

• A thoroughly renovated auditorium using the same structure as the original

• A 100-yard-long dance studio to accommodate football routines

• A band hall with 5-yard markers to practice field routines indoor

• A full-production ready black box theater

• An alumni exhibit (currently under construction) that will feature old photos and uniforms from Thomas Jefferson history

• Collaborative flex spaces for student meetings

• Offices for visiting partners

• Collegiate-style furniture in classrooms

“When you have a building that is beautiful, functional, [and] spacious, … you don’t have to react to things,” Jones said. “You’re prepared to do the other things.”

Jones said a quote he’s been keeping in mind during this process is by Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

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