Located on the east side of Austin and surrounded by single-story homes, the new 80,800 square-foot elementary school is the result of a transparent community-based planning effort spanning two years with the Austin ISD and Govalle community. The result is a community driven school serving 522 students and one that represents its neighborhood, engages its community, and embraces its history and diverse population of learners. The new school was built as replacement for the existing building that did not meet the basic needs of the district’s educational requirements. Sustainability, collaboration, creativity, cultural proficiency, community and outdoor connections were the driving factors in the design.
The school directly engages with its neighbors both tectonically and volumetrically. The elevations are broken down into constituent, relatable components that enable the building’s mass to sit comfortably next to the adjacent homes. Since opening in the spring of 2020, the school has become a source of civic pride and a valued community resource. Parents, students, teachers, and administrators have expressed their delight in being part of the design process and their ability to live and learn in the new school.
Sustainability is a driving force behind the school’s mission to provide a high quality and comprehensive education experience that challenges and inspires students to make a positive contribution to our world. The sustainable features of the school include a water collection system, vegetable and butterfly gardens, rain gardens throughout the site, and other energy saving features. These features serve as a teaching tool for the students and celebrate the community’s long history of respecting the environment. Through careful planning with the school and community, innovative graphics representing specific values of the community were created throughout the school providing an inspiring learning environment for the students. The existing trees were an important and unique feature celebrating the site, which required careful planning and an innovative approach to the site and building configuration. As a result, many of the trees on site were saved providing shade throughout the campus and opportunities for children to learn outside.
The school offers limitless opportunities for collaboration, flexibility and hands-on learning. The site and building set an example of conversation and stewardship. The design mirrors the modern and flexible environment we live in today, where both collaborative and individual opportunity spaces are the key to success. The school is a tool that can be customized to accommodate different teaching approaches and induvial learners’ preferences. The moveable walls, flexible-collaborative furniture and multi-use spaces allows the school to transform collaboration areas for many uses over the years to come.
The center includes dedicated areas for core curriculum courses, including English, math, sciences, and computer courses including business applications and petroleum data technology classes. The building also includes areas for Cisco network education and electrical technology education, including alternative energy systems. Also included are administrative areas for staff, a registrar/bursar office, testing centers, and various open areas in the design for student collaboration space.
Classrooms and labs mirror real work environments, giving students the ability to form career expectations in high school. Students that pass classes their classes at the Center acquire certifications and licenses needed in their professions.
The details of the Center make it a revolutionary learning space. For example, the electrochromic glass in the upper windows facing the east, west and the entrance is connected to a weather monitoring device. It is able to tint or lighten based on the weather, time of day, and the overall position of the sun. Glass walls create transparency for students to see into other classes.
A highlight of the Center is the Interactive Observation Lab (IOL), also known as the Asymmetric Cone This is primarily a surgical amphitheater where students sit in the balcony and observe medical procedures taking place in the center of the cone. Moveable glass partitions make it easy to accommodate automotive and welding classes so teachers can wheel in large pieces of equipment while students watch from above. The IOL can be used for instructional purpose by any of the 10 different program fields that the Center offers.
The Center gives Alief ISD students an innovative, purposefully designed space, which cultivates and trains their passions towards a successful career path.
To effectively accomplish the lofty objectives of the Strategic Design Initiative, the district engaged the community. They hosted community summits to start the conversation, followed by focus groups of students, parents, community members and district staff to expand on ideas and challenge old paradigms. Additionally, they published an online survey to gather additional community feedback, as they wanted the process to be transparent and inclusive. The process engaged more than 5,000 stakeholders and took nine months to complete.
PBK and the LISD Design Team masterminded a learning environment that enables a learning organization’s core disciplines of personal mastery, shared vision and team learning to thrive. By creating small learning communities within the school to support and nurture individual academic strengths, the design enables students to capitalize on self-sustaining growth. Within each community or learning organization, learners tackle individual learning activities as part of a team, which promotes mastery. In addition, the design capitalizes on the concept of lifelong learning by promoting opportunities for this to occur at all levels throughout the campus – for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. These spaces assume a variety of forms and shapes – from the large learning hub where many convene to learn and work together, to quiet areas (like the nook above the library) where opportunities to immerse oneself in learning is more private and personal.
Students learn through a variety of instructional programs, but the two most significant pedagogies are project-based learning and blended learning. During the strategic design process, students were asked “How do you like to learn?” From the answers received (and based on the parallel work of the strategic design team), the district decided that an active learning model supported by team activities would be the best form of curriculum delivery for students. Project-based learning accommodates this method, as well as supplying students with a relevant skillset to succeed in today’s society. To further support this, the district launched it’s 1:X initiative to provide students with a personalized learning experience. 1:X is a transformative installation of a flexible learning environment that gives students tools to access, create, share and collaborate as digital citizens.
The building design incorporates unique collaboration spaces, each with its own theme. The classroom layout is open to maintain consistency within the district by providing flexible/movable casework between pairs of classrooms to further incorporate the agile classroom style. The building plan optimizes separation between learning areas and louder activity spaces.
The new Ninth Grade Center also showcases a centralized Administration Suite with secured vestibule at the main entrance. The center's Learning Hub offers an open, adaptable and agile space to function as a media center, cafeteria and collaborative learning environment. The Learning Hub wraps around a centralized campus courtyard that integrates the Ninth Grade Campus into the overall site and gives students and teachers an opportunity for outdoor learning activities.