Eight years later: A look back at designing schools for learning

These certainly aren’t your grandmothers’ schools.

At least that’s how Dan Bankhead, General Manager for Facilities Design, describes the newly redesigned schools built under the 2012 Bond Program.

A sharp contrast from the original buildings, classrooms are now bright, spacious, and flooded with natural light. Bold colors adorn the floors and walls. Shared spaces are reminiscent of trendy hotel lobbies and cafés.

While eye-catching, these designs serve a purpose far greater than just aesthetics. They help create environments conducive to learning. Nearly 40 schools, including 29 high schools, have been brought into the 21st century thanks to new designs that emphasize student collaboration, creativity, and academic performance.

“We found that when students can rock in chairs and can move around, they can receive and retain information better,” said Bankhead, who helps oversee the management, planning, and design work of the bond project.

Hence the reason bond schools have flexible chairs, moveable walls, and lightweight desks that can be reconfigured at a moment’s notice.

Natural light, bright colors, and extended learning areas also play important design roles, Bankhead said, because studies show they can improve student behavior, stimulate the brain, and inspire continual learning.

With the bond project only one school away from the finish line, the question remains – have these redesigns really helped students in the way they were intended?

If you ask Condit Elementary Principal Daniel Greenberg, the answer is yes.

“I think the design elements are critical in our building for creating a learning environment where our students can thrive,” Greenberg said about Condit, which was upgraded in 2017.

Greenberg said over the years he’s noticed a boost in students’ creativity and collaboration, giving credit to the “learning commons” where students gather in a neighborhood-like setting for studying and content creation.

Though the pandemic has changed the way the space is used these days, he’s optimistic students will get back to collaborating there once again.  

At Milby High School, Principal Ruth Ruiz feels the same.

“Our students’ scores have increased tremendously, and collaboration and creativity have also risen,” Ruiz said, adding that student creativity has even expanded beyond the campus since it’s rebuild in 2017. “Many of our students have created projects that also impact the community by helping Missions Milby and working with the students at the surrounding elementary schools.”

Bankhead said he and his team will continue to research the latest and greatest in school design in preparation for future school construction projects.

“Good, effective teachers and leadership is key, but at least we’re doing our little part of giving students and staff a great environment,” Bankhead said.