Project Advisory Teams tour 4 innovative schools in D.C. area

The concept of a 21st century school can be hard to imagine. But Project Advisory Team members from nine HISD schools have a clearer vision after a trip to our nation’s capital last week.

The one-day tour of four schools in the Washington, D.C., area included campuses that are collaborative, flexible, and technology-focused. The objective was to give the participants insight into design possibilities for schools across HISD that are being rebuilt or renovated under the district’s bond program, as well as observe up close how those spaces impact student learning.

The nine HISD high schools participating in the tour were Sam Houston MSTC, Austin, Jordan, Madison, Westbury, Bellaire, Lamar, Yates, and Davis.

“The goal is to build you a quality school that will last 30 or 40 years,” Dan Bankhead, general manager of Facilities Design, told the group. “This is a brave new journey for all of us.”

The group visited four renovated or newly constructed educational facilities: H.D. Woodson STEM High School; Phelps Architecture, Construction & Engineering High School; Dunbar Senior High School; and Woodrow Wilson Senior High School.

Woodson features a “vertical main street,” a sky-lit central atrium that links four floors housing STEM educational spaces. The two upper floors contain four learning communities configured for integrated learning. Each classroom can be a collaborative workspace or divided into smaller workspaces. A media center is located on the second floor and is at the heart of the STEM learning community – reflecting the technology and collaborative learning environment.

Cecario Guerrero, an agriculture/science instructor for Austin High School’s CTE program, said the concepts he saw at the school are useful for his teaching needs.

“The STEM collaborative training and teaching they have in which you can walk down between the classrooms with two teachers teaching the same subject at the same time is very useful,” he said. “I like the way the space is used, with the whiteboards from top to bottom and the other educational tools on the other side of the room.”

At Phelps, the school itself serves as a teaching tool, with vocational curriculum supported by features such as varied masonry patterns and flooring style examples in the commons, and exposed color-coded pipes to show systems within the building. Two windmills on top of the building also are learning tools. Along with modern construction, architects were able to preserve the 1933 building to meet modern-day security and sustainability requirements.

Dunbar and Wilson both feature expansive entryways that are meant to serve as the heartbeat of the school where students can gather. At Dunbar, a senior lounge provides the older students with their own space to casually meet in a college-style setting. A 600-seat theater is designed to accommodate a variety of performance and media. Energy and sustainability features bring the school to LEED Platinum status.

Wilson’s science learning spaces are arranged with dry classrooms to either side of central wet labs. A science classroom also includes access to a greenhouse directly adjacent to it.

Brenda Braziel, a Madison High School computer programming teacher, recorded video on her iPad throughout the tours. She said she hopes the video will help her students get a glimpse of what 21st century learning spaces look like – particularly with the integration of technology, as well as flexible spaces that can expand or contract to suit varied learning experiences.

“I think (the students) will be most excited about the fact that they can move about and have freedom of movement to learn … to grow, mature, and engage,” Braziel said.

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