The Academy: Middle and High School Designs

Part 4 of our 6-part series
<<Part 3: Elementary School Designs

Groups focusing on middle and high school designs envisioned similar, open concepts for integrating schools with communities and classrooms with other areas, also adding facilities for Career and Technical Education (CTE). Those features would not only be used by students, they said, but also by parents and outside members of the community for career advancement.

In classrooms, teachers looked to break away from what they described as designs centered around “industrialized education”—through which teachers have traditionally been placed front and center, with a designated desk and/or work area, instead making them a mobile element of the learning environment.

“When I grew up and went to school, my teacher was the sole source of information,” Riggs explained. “There was a book, but generally the teacher stood and delivered information to students for the general class period.” These days, that’s no longer the case, Fellows argued. “Now, because technology has changed, it’s really more about the student and being student-centered,” Riggs added. “Teachers orchestrate information to kids, but they’re also getting it from their laptops, their smart phones, smart boards and other technologies. The teacher is no longer the sole hub of knowledge.”

For this reason, teachers are no longer concerned with owning their own spaces, Fellows suggested, but desire maximum flexibility and technology. School designs, on the other hand, haven’t caught up to the times, they said—not just through technology, but through layout.

The ideal school not only includes large, open spaces, they suggested, but furniture that can be reconfigured throughout the day. Teachers might rearrange their classroom settings three or four times over a single class period, Fellows suggested. “They might start out at the beginning of the period in a traditional lecture style, where the teacher’s talking to an entire group, but quickly change tables, chairs and other furniture into three separate groups of six,” Riggs said he discovered from teachers. “Then they might send six students out for separate group collaboration or instruction, or maybe a special lecture.”

To accommodate those changes, architects assisted Fellows in designing what they call “extended learning areas,” including features like widened hallways with additional furniture and outdoor courtyards. Those areas were designed to be supervised through glass doors and walls or joined together.

To some, the concept might sound like an open-air playground for distractions, Riggs admits, but it’s one that Moseley Architects has tested and found effective in practice.

“We’ve taken clients into schools where we’ve done these sorts of arrangements and there’s no sign that it’s disruptive,” Riggs explained. While demonstrating to prospective clients, “In one case, I had the school superintendent and three school board members standing in an extended learning area outside of a Kindergarten room,” he said. “They were jumping up and down, and the kids didn’t even pay them any attention.”
It’s all in what we get used to, others suggested.

“You could see everybody at the table when we started realizing, ‘Oh my gosh, this is an answer to a lot of questions and problems.’ The process transcended that and instead of designing for safety, we designed for student needs, with safety an organic part of it. It was such an incredible process that unfolded with us in the middle of it.”

Freebird McKinney

Next, we focused on furniture.