Since 2006, educational institutions have increasingly adopted an integrated educational framework called STEM. Concepts learned in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics classrooms, are combined in an explorative and collaborative manner. With the addition of the Arts, its also referred to as STEAM or STREAM in some academic circles.
At the center of the STEAM framework is Project-Based Learning. Wherein, students’ efforts are focused on the "application" of learned concepts geared toward solving "relevant problems". For this to occur, flexible learning spaces conducive to collaboration, experimentation, and research are required. Spaces fitting this need, are not inherent to traditional school buildings. According to Education Week, there are 84,000 American public schools, the average age being 44 years old; major renovations average within the last 12 years. With traditional floor plans consist of conventional classrooms measured down long corridors, which begs the question, how can districts now deliver an integrated educational system housing both, the learnings of core academic concepts in classroom settings while also inculcating the development of a STEAM mindset; environments where learning and doing merge?
Carving out unconventional spaces within the constructs of a district's budget and many times existing square footage has multidimensional challenges. Where do they begin? What's involved? Let’s take a journey with Peekskill City School District (PCSD) who is proudly doing just that.
This article will explore three pre-construction steps:
Start with a vision for your District
Invest in Educational Planning Early
Enlist a variety of Architectural Concepts
1. The Districts Vision
PCSD is located on the banks of the Hudson River, one hour north of New York City. The District is home to six school buildings and over 3,400 students. For the past six years, PCSD has infused Project-Based Learning as part of their instructional program while systematically growing STEAM opportunities. Currently, Peekskill provides specialized STEAM programs at the secondary level in the areas of Robotics, Science Research, and Art. In just a few short years, the District has seen these programs inspire and further drive their students' desire to grow these programs for future generations.
“I want these programs to last, to have a legacy for other students,” - Tarique Cummings, a Peekskill High School senior and member of the school’s award-winning Iron Devils Robotics Team.
An educational experience enriched with STEAM opportunities, by its very hands-on nature, better prepares students to compete in a 21st Century global environment, which flourishes on teaming. Whether followed by higher education and/or career paths, it infuses students with essential communication skills, critical thinking, and collaborative problem solving ensuring students graduate with a strong academic foundation leading to lifelong growth and success.
“What you see nowadays is that many people are not going to work behind a cubicle any longer, they are working as part of a team, and on that team are people of different disciplines,” - Peekskill Superintendent Dr. David Mauricio.
The success of Peekskill’s initial STEM programming led to the District’s vision (watch Districts Capital Project video) to expand its current learning areas into more sophisticated STEAM educational spaces. While Peekskill faced certain challenges in realizing this vision, such as limited space, the creative thinking of PCSD administrators, combined with that of Educational Planners and Architect partners, Hamlin Design Group and Mosaic Associates Architects (Mosaic/HDG) brought to life a plan for proposed upgrades at all District buildings, including a new STEAM Innovation Center at Peekskill High School and a STEAM Exploration Lab at Hillcrest Elementary.
2. Educational Planning
Any district looking to upgrade their facilities should start planning early. For PCSD, it began with a 5yr Facilities Plan evolving into a Capital Plan. Mosaic/HDG has assisted multiple school districts in upgrading their schools to meet the needs of modern students. For the Mosaic/HDG team, working with the PCSD has been an exciting and rewarding process. The individual voices of the community, students, teachers, and administration quickly unearthed a permeating passion and pride existing their community. It is important to understand, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for district upgrades. The impact is multi-generational and community-specific, magnifying the importance of the programming and planning phase is key to attaining a well-matched solution.
By not presuming what the District needed, void of preconceived ideas, Mosaic/HDG first interviewed teachers and administration individually; touring existing facilities to get to the heart of understanding HOW they desired to deliver their programs moving forward. Discovering what styles and behaviors they would like to introduce. This method allows for the true needs and personality of the District to speak for itself, shaping concepts molded around their vision, their students, their facilities.
Educational Planning is the foundation that fuels the rationale for all architectural design in projects such as Peekskill’s. This specialized investigation breeds collaborative dialogue while shedding light and creating clarity on the needs being addressed - for students to achieve academic success. There must be milestones within this phase to assure time in this process is thorough, constructive, and progressive.
For PCSD, it was important to encourage organic instruction between students and teachers, to elevate students' perception of learning, and to introduce a collegiate feel to the environment.
Based on these interviews, collaborations, best practice, and industry experience with various educational delivery styles, the Mosaic/HDG's team formulated a sample STEAM program, they then began the conceptual design process.
The extensive collaboration between Peekskill and Mosaic/HDG's team during the Educational Planning phase led to the creation of thoughtful designs based on research. Various architectural concepts were presented to the District in stages. The effect of portraying distinctly different conceptual abstractions sharpens the focus in-leg of the prior phase and potentially stimulates new ideas. Again, the goal is not just coming to a rapid end product, its the understanding and discovery of multiple factors paving a path to a District's ideal solution for generations to come. Exhilarating stuff! One development born from these charrettes was a unique space called the “mixer”. A brake-out room centrally located in the Innovation Center. The "design mixer", as it is imagined, leads to a juxtaposed series of classrooms and meets one of the District's goals of stimulating collaborations as it caters to a cross-pollination of learning amongst disciplines outside of isolated classrooms. Bordering the "design mixer" are transparent learning spaces visually creating excitement among other students. The infusion of floor-to-ceiling windows capitalizes on Peekskill High School’s breath-taking views of the Hudson Valley, further enhancing the creative atmosphere of each learning space.
PCSD held an informative Town Hall Meeting educating the community about the new Capital Project and answered key questions. As of the date of this article, PCSD's voters, by majority vote, passed Proposition 1 & 2. The project is now in the Schematic Design phase. In addition to the STEAM facilities, Mosaic/HDG will be assisting the District with the renovation of four additional schools and athletic stadium.
This article was written by Ruth Gallagher of Mosaic/HDG, in conjunction with the Peekskill City School District.