Back to school season begins with educators, administrators, and staff prepping their schools for the incoming classes – rearranging desks, organizing supplies, lesson planning, and hosting orientations. And while educators certainly carry the load in ensuring school districts run smoothly, architecture and interior design makes the grade when it comes to supporting learning styles and maximizing engagement in schools. Get your pencils out to take notes on how 21st century design maximizes engagement in PreK-12 education.

1. Flexible Classrooms

Everyone learns differently, and today’s schools reflect that. Different seating options support movement and empower student choice. Offering a variety of seating, and even standing, options allows students to learn in ways that are comfortable for them, minimizing distractions. More open classrooms also encourage the teacher to interact throughout the classroom rather than standing in one place.

classroom with flexible seating options
St. Peter High School includes flexible seating options for students.

On average, children sit for 8.5 hours a day, which can cause health problems and a decrease in concentration. Giving students the option to stand, and providing seating options in which they can wiggle, spin, or rock, promotes healthy blood flow and increases classroom engagement.

high school classroom with large tables on wheels for desk space
By putting furniture on wheels or using tables and chairs rather than traditional desks, classroom configurations can be changed to foster collaboration.

2. Sustainable Schools

While upfront investments for a green, high-performance school can seem daunting, cost savings are often achieved in the long run. According to a study on green schools, lower energy and water costs, improved teacher retention, and lower health costs save green schools about $12 per square foot, which is four times the additional cost of going green.

Green schools use 33 percent less energy than conventionally designed schools by taking advantage of efficient lighting and HVAC systems. Plus, increased air quality in green schools equates to less sick days for teachers and students.

3. Community Engagement

When planning for the new St. Peter, Minnesota, high school, ISG took a community-centered approach. Open houses allowed the District to shape future plans around citizen concerns and keep residents informed throughout the process. A trend for educational facilities to be renovated or built to serve as community hubs helps bridge the gap between students, residents, and local businesses. The new St. Peter High School, which has a public open house on Aug. 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., was designed to enhance education through engagement and celebrate the community.

rendering of a high school courtyard
A large courtyard provides a shared space for community events while also creating the opportunity for outdoor classes and a reading garden.

4. Advanced Technology

Technology is changing the way teachers instruct and the way students learn. Common technology included in modern school designs includes smartboards, wireless internet access, charging stations for e-textbooks, wired teacher podiums, and ample outlets. Schools also are thinking outside the classrooms by including outlets in common areas throughout the building as well.

5. Natural Light + Views to the Outside

The use of natural and adequate light levels throughout learning institutions has been proven to increase test scores and student learning rates. The days of flickering florescent lighting are over. Let the light in with windows and other efficient lighting options. The dimmed, more natural light also benefits classrooms with advanced technology, making screens easier to read. Advanced A/V controls allow the lighting to easily be dimmed when needed.

high school hallway with large windows
St. Peter High School includes large windows to let in ample natural light.

In addition to letting natural light infiltrate the school, windows provide views to the outside world, which is proven to improve student performance and help reduce stress.

When passing a referendum, building a new school, or renovating an existing facility, finding solutions that increase engagement while making the most of each dollar invested is critical. Whether through a detailed facility/District assessment that does more than just report the obvious, but helps offer solutions, priorities, and implementation strategies, or through direct pre-referendum services and design solutions, District’s in varying sizes can make a long-term impact on the health and future of today’s youth.

Join the Conversation #ISGEducation #21stCenturyDesign #Learning #SustainableSchools

Meet Kevin Bills AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kevin serves as an architect at ISG, aiming to understand the goals for each project by first thoroughly listening to the client’s needs and then carrying out design and project...