Avondale school district uses escape room to teach students critical thinking

AVONDALE – Locks, puzzles, keys. One hour later, as a countdown clock ticked away the minutes, students finish their escape into an innovative learning experience.

Leaders of the Avondale Elementary School District took education to a new level and built a district escape room. It’s modeled after a popular entertainment adventure similar to a live-action video game, where participants in a locked room have to puzzle their way through clues to get out of the room in 60 minutes.

Superintendent Betsy Hargrove, after escaping a room with friends, thought students could explore the same concept.  

“In Avondale, our mission is to grow thinkers, problem solvers and communicators to pursue a future without limits,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove brought the idea to Barbara DeWall and Jill Schoettes at the district office. The three then began to work with escape-room companies on how to build an educational, efficient escape room for students.

DeWall said parents, maintenance and technology workers helped build an escape room with an Egyptian theme, with statues of King Tut and other royalty, pyramids and other ancient-looking artifacts created with a 3-D printer.

faux-Egyptian painting

Barbara DeWall of the Avondale Elementary School District office painted this mural in “The Grade Escape” room. (Photo by Madison Conner/Cronkite News)

“It was volunteers coming and spending time, spending their own energy in order to get it done,” DeWall said. She, Schoettes and Hargrove designed the room and created the puzzles and clues.
Volunteers built Styrofoam walls, refurbished furniture and crafted the room from pieces donated by the community.

District leaders invited a local escape-room business to test their knowledge in the room before opening it to students in the K-8th grade district.

Eighth grader Natalie Arroyo, one of the first students to go in, grasped the goal of the escape room.

“I learned more about teamwork and cooperation,” Natalie said. “That was a really important part, that we all had to be together. Some kids I didn’t even know, we were just all working together to solve that one puzzle.”

District leaders plan to open up the escape room to other districts and create another escape room with students’ help.