School of the Future
Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, celebrated its grand opening in August. Three months later, TIME magazine put the school on its annual list of best inventions.
The honor focused on Ehrman Crest’s inventive design. There are mathematical patterns on the floors and giant magnetic maps on the walls. Some classrooms connect to the outdoors. There’s also a big spiral ramp and a rooftop garden. “We didn’t set out to be a best invention,” Seneca Valley School District superintendent Tracy Vitale told TIME for Kids. “We set out simply to replace an 84-year-old building.”
That building needed too much work to be saved, Vitale says, so a decision was made to start fresh. “We said, ‘This is our chance to build the school of the future.’ And that’s what we did.”
Kids played a key role in creating Ehrman Crest. After adults made decisions about basics, such as the budget and the number of classrooms needed, the architects met with stakeholder stakeholder SDI PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES a person involved with or affected by an action (noun) Parents were stakeholders at the school board meeting. groups. One of them was students.
Michael Corb is with the architecture firm CannonDesign. “We really pushed hard on, ‘What do you envision a new school to be?’ and ‘What kind of environment would you love to learn in?’” he explains. “We wanted [students’] perspective on how the school should look and feel.”
Cannon partnered with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the project. Anne Fullenkamp, a director at the museum, said the design process started with “visioning sessions,” where kids could express their ideas. “The intent was really to try to tap into the intangible intangible MORSA IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES something that is not physical but that can be felt (adjective) Happiness is an intangible benefit of a sunny day. things,” she says. The kids were given a variety of “random, weird” materials, such as photos, pine cones, a plastic lawn flamingo, and different colored cards.
“Kids were grabbing these things and creating their own storyboards,” Corb says. Wood was important to them, because it felt natural and was comforting. And they preferred calming colors, such as blues and greens.
The kids made clear that the environment should be fun. The result is a school with all the excitement of a children’s museum. There are traditional classrooms, but there are also places for exploration and collaboration. “Every space in this building is for learning,” Corb says.
Matthew Palano, a sixth grader at Ehrman Crest, is a big fan of the playground. “It’s humongous!” he says. He likes the furniture too. “The desks are really cool. They’re shaped like fish!” (Actually, they’re curved and designed to nest, allowing for flexible groupings.)
“It’s such a proud feeling, walking into our school,” teacher Ryan Bonicky says. “There’s definitely a buzz going around. The kids are just excited about learning.”
Ehrman Crest hopes that the physical space will have a positive impact on student achievement. “We built our dream school,” Vitale says. “I think the lessons learned here are ‘Be creative as adults’ and ‘Listen to children.’”
We Need Wiggle Room
Students came up with some of the best ideas for Ehrman Crest, Tracy Vitale told TFK. One girl designed a chair. “The legs were springs!” Michael Corb says. “She said, ‘It’s fun to sit on because you can wiggle around.’” Other kids had the same idea. “It was a way for them to tell us they need to fidget,” Anne Fullenkamp says. “They need to move.”
Ehrman Crest doesn’t have chairs on springs, but some seats let kids safely bounce and rock.