Insight and Wonder Part I: Student Spaces and Rituals

21 Oct

Our first task, as we work to develop our future campus, the Midwest’s first energy net-positive school, is to cull the hopes, desires and expectations of our stakeholders. For so many, this school has been a nearly decade long dream. The opportunity to engage all stakeholders in shaping our future campus has sent ripples of excitement through our hallways!

In addition to our incredible architects at Studio Gang, we are working with Wonder, By Design and Rosan Bosch Studios, both international experts in designing learning spaces. Wonder, By Design, whose co-founders Christian Long and Trung Le helped write The Third Teacher, has been working with AGC for years to help envision this campus. Our incredible design team has been focused for the last two months on stakeholder workshops and observing the rituals and culture of our school community to inform the development of our design brief or “manifesto,” for this future campus.

The first stage of this process was for our design team to immerse themselves in AGC’s school day processes. They took photographs, set up time-lapse cameras, observed rituals, sat in on democratic school meetings, and learned alongside students during our 8 hour school day (twice). This “Insight Week” was an intense series of three 12 hour days, from 7 am democratic school meetings to late night dinners with our external partners, mirroring the busy life of AGC’s families and staff.

It has been incredible for all of us to reflect on our very special community of learners through the eyes of our design team. Here are some of the moments they chose to capture while observing our students. Next, we’ll explore their workshops and interviews with our staff, our families, local leaders, external partners and experts in sustainable design.


BACK TO SCHOOL DAY 1: K-2nd Grade Observations at 47th Street.

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In our small rented-spaces, students and staff use space creatively, including turning walls into kid-height chalkboards and storing supplies on windowsills. How can these uses be incorporated into a new design?

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Students have their own space outside our classrooms for coats, water-bottles, take-home projects and their “outdoor shoes.” We ask students to bring slippers to protect our floors and carpets and to improve indoor air quality by limiting what is tracked through our halls. Reusable water bottles keep students hydrated and reduce the need for trips to the water fountain and disposable drink containers. How can we honor student spaces in a future campus?

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“Todos los niños son estrellas brillantes/ All children are bright stars!” Our bilingual school features handwritten signs – an opportunity for our students to practice translating writing, and reading in other languages. Many students and staff switch openly between languages.

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Todd Zima, Principal at Studio Gang Architects and Trung Le, Co-Founder of Wonder, by Design observe the many uses of our parking lot area. How will flexibility of spaces translate into a new facility?

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Wonder, by Design founder Trung Le and Rosan Bosch Studios founder Rosan Bosch chat while AGC’s Maintenance Manger, Danny, builds a larger run to allow our schoolyard chickens more space to play on nights and weekends when they cannot run free in the yard.

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Reading nooks and cozy spaces abound in our tiny barrel-factory. How will our state-of-the-art new campus meet our need for comfortable and cozy spaces?

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Chef Eddie gives a high-five during lunch. Our on-site food programs allows our students, staff and families to connect directly to the journey of food from farm to the table and allows our chef, who is also an AGC parent to see first-hand how students react to dishes and tweak accordingly.

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BACK TO SCHOOL DAY 2: 3rd-5th Grade Observations at the Annex building on the campus of Phoebe Hearst Elementary School.

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AGC supports our teachers professional development through coaching. Literacy specialist and founding AGC teacher, Meredith bounces between classrooms in both buildings to support teachers and students.

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Seating options in our 3-8th grade building allow older students responsibility over their learning experience and help meet a variety of student learning styles.

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Teachers and students design their classrooms to meet their needs and wants. How can this flexibility grow with us?

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Student, staff and families all said that natural lighting was a priority. Current AGC students can look forward to the natural light in our middle school classrooms, on the second floor of our Annex building next door to Hearst Elementary School.

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AGC and our neighbors at Hearst worked with Openlands to create this native plant garden and outdoor classroom in the space between our two buildings. The murals, designed by the Green Star Movement and created with help from students at AGC and Hearst, say “grow” and “conserve.”

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Principal Jenn Moore supports a student council meeting held at a small table under the stairs. Student council meetings follow many of the same structures as our staff’s democratic school meetings, with rotating roles like “leader,” “process observer,” “note taker,” and “caboose.”

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During recess, students used tall brush cuttings to build a fort around the base of a tree. They requested that no trees die during the construction of our net-positive campus.

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