Changing the Face of Education – A Step into the Future

For Immediate Release

November 15, 2017

Janell Weihs

WASHINGTON, DC – Can students lead us into a better future? As the 2017 Association for Learning Environments SchoolsNEXT competition concluded, the jury answered with a resounding YES! Displaying remarkable enthusiasm, empathy, rigorous research, and exceptional teamwork, their transformative solutions not only meet the needs of students, but address the economy and society of the future, enabling them to master the skills they need to take on the challenges of a world defined by change.

With the intent to bring the student voice into the planning and design of exceptional learning environments, the students demonstrated their passion in rethinking the requisites of tomorrow’s 21st century learning environments, reaching beyond the school walls and developing solutions to global design challenges that inspire transformation in education.

Challenged to plan and design sustainable and resilient learning spaces that provide real world learning experiences, encouraging innovation, critical thinking and collaborative teamwork, these young designers have broadened the potential of a school by connecting excellence in design with excellence in education. Guided by a STEAM curriculum, the “planning” teams learn the importance of collaboration and compromise as they finalize their project ideas.

And here is what the finalist teams of middle and high school students from across the globe accomplished…

Walking away with top honors, the Award of Excellence, Lakeridge Junior High School’s Innovative Home of Potential (IHOP) is not your grandfather’s school. With their articulate division of labor, well-defined planning process involving all stakeholders and unlimited budget, the students from Lake Oswego, Oregon, took a leap into the future with a holistic design that featured a circular building surrounding a forest of tree houses in an Ewok Village setting. They learned the importance of planning and redesign, noting how their initial ideas evolved and were realized in IHOP. The rounded shape of the ductile steel building increases its structural stability and resilience and along with base isolators, providing an ideal earthquake shelter for the Lake Oswego, Oregon community, while glass walls provide natural lighting and the forest offers a calming effect. With an eye to the connection between learning and the global community, IHOP challenges tradition, using the building as a teaching tool, placing science classrooms in the trees, adding makerspaces and adapting the class structure to different learning modalities.

The impassioned teams from Gulliver Academy Middle School, Miami, Florida and McAuliffe International School, Denver, Colorado tied for second place, sharing the Award of Distinction.

The Gulliver Academy team was seriously impacted by Hurricane Irma and unable to participate in the original jury proceedings. However, the jurors agreed to meet a week later to accommodate the team, many of whom connected remotely from areas outside of Miami! With an ingrained focus on giving back, the Gulliver Academy team gave careful consideration to student success and community interaction. Their 21st century STEM building incorporates modern technology in a sustainable, comfortable learning environment. Of interest was the connection drawn between colors and mood and how that might impact learning conditions.

Introducing themselves and their plans for the future, the McAuliffe International School students exhibited rigorous research and extensive use of the International Baccalaureate (IB) design cycle and Revit to accomplish their comprehensive planning and design process. With leadership from their Research and Design team, they created three guiding principles that would the backbone of facility – growth, free will and connection to nature. Everything in the school had to connect back to the three principles, including community engagement.

The Award of Merit went to Hudson Bend Middle School, Austin, Texas. They included multiple surveys, school and community tours and a sustainability consultant in their compelling planning process. The Hudson Bend team demonstrated great insight on how challenging it is to design a learning environment for the future when living in the present building. The team managed to push the envelope and utilize technologies that are in their infancy stages or barely even being thought about, i.e. textile power.

Minnewashta Elementary School, Excelsior, Minnesota and St. Michael’s Academy, Springfield, Massachusetts received Awards of Commendation.

The enthusiastic Minnewashta Elementary team demonstrated an exceptional planning process and included an architect mentor for their group-based charrette. Their use of recycled materials on their current property was key in the renovation of their outdoor classroom. Using Minecraft and Sketchup the Minnewashta team delivered a detailed and well thought out model that really brought the space to life!

The young men from St. Michael’s Academy displayed great presentation skills and a thorough planning process including a financial model with contingencies. Focusing on Early Childhood Education (ECE), the team considered this extremely important to all our futures. They are to be applauded for their great use of limited space, attention to learning modalities and creating an environment that appeals to everyone.

Analyzing the impact of STEAM on education, a team of high school students came up with the best possible solution to bring a nearly 45- year old high school up to speed with the latest trends in learning environments that transform education. Middletowne High School featured a learning community that was somewhat stagnant and sluggish in the pursuit of education. At the turn of the century, the way people learn had begun to change and concepts such as collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills came into play. Identifying the shift in learning from lecture-driven classrooms to project based learning, the Frederick County Career & Technology Center, Frederick, Maryland transformed the factory model, poorly lit and outdated facility into a 21st century collaborative, innovative, flexible learning environment.

With a construction budget totaling $85,058,000 the school renovations included skylights and clerestories, a bio retention pond, permeable pavement and a 3,300,000-sf sports center. These promising young designers demonstrated their ability to rethink education, inspire change and create meaningful learning experiences for Middletowne students. The highlight – a virtual reality presentation of their project. Add that to their proficiency with Revit, Lumion, Autocad Architecture and Revit Live.

By changing the face of education and preparing a pathway for tomorrow’s learners and leaders, their passion and desire to make a difference will change their world.

The Association for Learning Environments is the only professional organization whose primary purpose is improving the places where children learn. With approximately 4,800 members, the association embraces a collaborative network of global professionals with one single goal – building healthy, safe, resilient and sustainable 21st Century learning places that inspire transformation in education, enhance student and teacher performance, and support culture and community vitality. To learn more, visit our web site or follow us on social media.
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