Business and Community Partnerships Elevate Learning
Across the nation, we’re seeing an increase in school districts leveraging business and community partnerships to help do more with less, consolidate community resources, and move towards the future. With services that reach student needs around the clock (some on a 24/7 timetable), these partnerships are addressing needs holistically, as well as those of families and communities. There are three ways these partnerships are proving to be beneficial:
- Address basic needs of students and families;
- Provide real-world opportunities for students to find relevancy in subject matter; and
- Enhance the local economy.
As educational designers, we can support and enhance our clients’ ability to leverage such partnerships by providing them with facility designs that are flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of the school and community, paving the way for these community partnerships to thrive.
Meeting Basic Needs of Students and Families
In Tacoma, Washington, DLR Group recently completed an adaptive reuse project for McCarver Elementary School. With more than 250 community partnerships that support the vision and goals of the school and the district, McCarver has been successful as a facility that offers both education and flexible space for necessary community services. One of these partnerships is with the Tacoma Housing Authority’s Education Project, funded initially, in part, from a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The student body at McCarver has an annual turnover rate of around 115 percent, attributed very much to transient families at risk of homelessness. Tacoma Housing Authority offers special housing vouchers which provide housing stability to students and their families. These efforts, combined with the enriched learning opportunities from the faculty and staff at the school, support the holistic needs of the students.
To reinforce these partnerships, the renovation of McCarver Elementary school involved focused design strategies. The spaces designated for congregating, eating, and learning support a forward-thinking student centered International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum—including components such as fresh food preparation, flexible, shared learning spaces, and a community-focused McCarver Square. Envisioned to be the heart of the school, McCarver Square is where many of the larger community events take place.
A new feature immediately adjacent to McCarver Square is the Da Vinci Room, a place for making things, exploring science, and creating art. Its proximity to McCarver Square and the administrative office facilitates ease of zoning for community and partner use.
By adding a garage door to the cafeteria/large group learning space, the school is more adaptable for community use, including an accessible teaching kitchen. The cafeteria and servery supports the food service needs of McCarver's breakfast and lunch service, and also provides sack lunches for three additional schools. In the evening, the community kitchen and the space can be open to the public for community gathering and/or classes.
Providing Real-World Opportunities that Benefit the Local Economy
Another way partnerships are beneficial is when schools work with the local community, providing students with real-world relevancy while also enhancing the local economy. One example of that form includes community college partnerships in a local high school, focused on a specific industry that is economically significant in the community.
The new Tahoma High School and Regional Learning Center in Maple Valley, Washington, supports such partnerships. Tahoma School District’s vision is for students to become “Future Ready” –preparing students for college and careers as well as impacting the local economy by helping students develop skillsets that can be used in the area’s industries. Students can choose from career and technical pathways in the areas of health sciences, manufacturing, information technology, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and automotive tech. The District also envisions that the Regional Learning Center will allow business, educational, and community partnerships the flexibility to come into the school, and in turn, enable students to learn at these businesses and partner locations in the broader community.
As we consider the next steps in community partnerships, it is increasingly apparent that relevancy to real-world needs is crucial in the design of our buildings. Whether it is support of the holistic needs of students, or a need to address a skill or need of the “new economy”, our buildings themselves need to become partners at the table that are agents of change. Gone are the days where a gym, theater, or media center is the only space impacted by after-school use. Programming needs are changing both in school curriculum and “after hours” needs, recognizing that learning is a 24/7 endeavor. By embracing the needs of students and their families, the surrounding community, and valuable community partners, schools can position themselves to continue gaining support through impactful service. At the end of the day, if it forces us to re-think the way we create a school, the resulting design will likely be all the better.