Housed on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, a 246-square-mile United States military training facility, Tarawa Terrace Elementary School (TTES) was originally named Tarawa Terrace 2 Elementary School (TT2). Its current building was completed in October of 2001, and in April of 2011, a tornado struck the neighborhood of Tarawa Terrace, which housed a second school, Tarawa Terrace Primary School. This school was damaged beyond repair, and thus TT1 students and staff finished the remainder of the school year at TT2. These two schools merged, and began the 2011-2012 school year as TTES, serving prekindergarten through grade five.
From the school's mascot, the tiger, which is among the most endangered species on the planet, to resource management that emerged stronger after the catastrophic natural disaster that destroyed homes and displaced students, to the features of its feeder school building, the TTES community is keenly aware of humankind's interdependence with the natural world. In the aftermath of Mother Nature's fury, the school had an addition built under a compressed schedule to house the displaced students from TT1 and alleviate the crowding in a building not suited to handle the overflow. The new wing construction gave TTES over 40,000 additional square feet of space, and provided resource-efficient upgrades that were certified LEED Gold in 2014.
The construction took place with children onsite and provided a unique learning opportunity. Students were able to see not only the power of nature, but also the responsible reaction mankind must provide. Students experienced real time construction, including outdoor learning environments, and observed the gentle care and respect the contractors used to design and build learning benches from recycled bricks from TT1, as tribute and a sign of resilience and sustainability. Students had the opportunity to learn about LEED specifications as the expansion of their school happened around them daily. They began to understand how we all must learn to 46 co-exist as neighbors, from taking into consideration the effect of stormwater runoff on wildlife, to why new low-flow toilets and shut-off faucets were necessary to protect all of the inhabitants of the campus.
Staff and students also responded to the nature-made challenge by forming new extracurricular clubs, including a green team to work on beautification and conservation, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) team to learn the science behind it all, and a robotics team to remind us we must always look ahead to help build a brighter future. The school also formed partnerships with Lejeune High School, engineering and maintenance battalions, and the base biologist to offer real-life learning experiences.
The need for acquisition of additional learning tools also became apparent, so budgets were scrubbed and curricular purchases made. Due to the proactive investments the school was making on its own, TTES was asked to become one of DoDEA's first STEAM pilot schools. The school was able to outfit three technology labs and purchase one of the first mobile computer labs in DoDEA. With the new footprint came enough space to create a dedicated science lab - known as the STEAM Room - as well as several outdoor learning spaces for experimentation, creation, and innovation. Students use microscopes to learn about the smallest units of life and use skeletal models to identify anatomy. TTES has grown plants in barrel gardens that expanded across the continents, and raised ducks, chicken, and butterflies.
TTES is the only school at Camp Lejeune that has a student-led fundraising campaign inclusive of a healthy walk in honor of an adopted charity, to which the students have contributed over $6,000 in the last five years.