The following is a company-submitted press release and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of School Planning & Management magazine.

Changing the Face of Education: SchoolsNEXT Winners Take the Lead at the Association for Learning Environment's LearningSCAPES Conference

Washington, D.C. — Seven teams of middle school students from across the globe met at the Association for Learning Environments LearningSCAPES Conference in Philadelphia to compete in the final leg of the 2016 SchoolsNEXT competition. With the intent to bring the student voice into the planning and design of exceptional learning environments, the students demonstrated their passion in rethinking the requisites of tomorrow’s 21st-century learning environments, developing solutions to global design challenges that inspire transformation in education.

Challenged to plan and design sustainable and resilient learning spaces that encourage innovation, critical thinking and collaborative teamwork, these young designers have broadened the potential of a school by connecting excellence in design with excellence in education. As the face of education around the world continues to evolve to better prepare students to succeed, educators strive to enhance learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom, providing real-world learning experiences and opportunities for students to ask questions and problem solve, think critically and creatively, collaborate and gain experience in tactile, hands-on work while developing the eye for beauty and design.

Displaying remarkable enthusiasm, empathy, rigorous research and exceptional teamwork, their eco-friendly solutions not only meet the needs of students, but address the economy and society of the future, enabling them to master the skills they need to take on the challenges of a world defined by change.

Christina Lighthall, REFP, SchoolsNEXT chair, poignantly remarked, “These promising young designers demonstrated their ability to rethink education, affect change and create meaningful learning experiences for all learners and their communities. Their passion and aspiration to make a difference was remarkable.”

Walking away with top honors, Lake Oswego Junior High, Lake Oswego, OR, received the Award of Excellence. Earning the Award of Distinction was the engaging Sutter Middle School team from Folsom, CA. The enthusiastic team from Neal Middle School, Durham, NC, won the Award of Merit.  Every team was a winner – the outstanding teams from Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School, Cleveland, OH; Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, Dorset, UK; Null Middle School, Houston, TX and St. Michael’s Academy, Springfield, MA took home Awards of Commendation.

Donning their Philadelphia Freedom scarves and exhibiting great presentation skills, the Sailors of Lake Oswego Junior High welcomed us to the future! Excellence and innovation meet in this eco-friendly student-centered 21st century learning environment! Demonstrating great purpose and passion, the Team Sailors wouldn’t settle for anything less in the collaborative project based-spaces and maker spaces that comprise the Best of the Best school. With their articulate division of labor and well-defined planning process, the students described their “needs” and “wants” and chose an innovative educational and green solutions program, including a Holodeck for virtual field trips and extended learning, vertical green walls for safety and security, CO2 sequestering concrete, a Tree of Knowledge observation deck and flexible classroom spaces. New technologies were applied to ensure safety and a better traffic flow.  Tours with community members and the facilities bond committee, extensive google surveys for students and staff and meticulous research informed the learning areas and generated a school that not only utilizes green energy resources and technologies, inspires learning and fully supports the educational program but also forms a strong connection with the community. Facilities are open to the community after school hours and energy collected from the solar panels in the summer is donated to the community.

What an exciting journey we had with the Sutter Middle School team as they led us into the future and its endless possibilities- Crecerus. A play on the Latin word to grow, the Crecerus Institute’s watchword became “with wisdom we grow.’ No idea is a bad idea at Creserus, rather learning from mistakes sows the seeds for curiosity and living an intelligent and useful life. Gathering ideas from all the stakeholders, and applying their mantra of “rigor, relevance and relationships,” their design goal addressed the problems they found in their current learning environment. With an eye to the connection between learning and the global community, Creserus challenges the traditional grade structure, offering an environment for self-paced learning, grouped by passion and interest in four dormitory houses: Strexora for aspiring artists; Aulara for those who follow the path of technology and science; Cessna houses future leaders who strive to make this world a better place; and, Razelle for those who push themselves to their physical limits. While core academies cover the basics during the day, the four houses offer opportunities to study in their areas of interest, strengthening a student’s career path. Each house manages an urban farming pod that produces energy as its contents are cultivated and nurtured. Those who do not work in the field are responsible for cooking and cleaning and all are encouraged to provide community service. Points are earned and may be used for the snack bar and to ride the Maglev train, a magnetic levitation train providing frictionless propulsion that enables a train to “float” above the track, capable of speeds in excess of 350 mph.

Neal Middle School’s Durham International Innovation Academy is for dreamers, believers, planners and creators. It is the place to pursue bold ideas. Demonstrating a very comprehensive planning process, the team utilized the DEAL engineering design procedure: Define the problem | Explore ideas | Apply a solution | Look back and learn. They learned the importance of planning and redesign, noting how their initial ideas evolved and were realized in the Durham International Innovation Academy.  Demonstrating their passion for encouraging optimal student learning and conducting exceptional research of the needs of their community, the students focused on designing solutions to rebuild their East Durham community. After several exploratory field trips, the team discovered that Research Triangle Park(RTP) offered the greatest opportunity. Incorporating a STEM curriculum through a partnership with RTP, the students were introduced to groundbreaking research and future career paths. Replete with flexible and eco-friendly learning environments, opportunities for internships and engaging outdoor learning spaces, the Innovation Academy inspired change in the future of education for the entire community. Turning dreams into reality, the Innovation Academy provided healthy organic food, unique educational resources including a dual language emergent program and affordable electricity produced at their solar farm to the community–indeed these students will make a difference!

Brain scanner headsets that determine what a student actually knows? Three self-paced learning levels that match the values and learning styles of the student? Minds that don’t wake up until 9:00 am? The Intent on creating a better learning experience for all learners, the Brecksville-Broadview Heights team incorporated these exceptional features – welcome to the Huron School of Innovation. Beginning the school day at 9:00am, students are placed in one of three learning levels allowing students to progress at their own pace. Fingerprint ID’s allow entry to the school as well as access to their account on any computer throughout the building. A multi-use stadium accommodating all sports and events provided additional space for the Huron Farm and eco-friendly greenhouse. Using aeroponics technologies similar to those used at NASA, they point with pride to their Tower Gardens, large pillars with plants grown with only water and nutrients. While the plants and produce are used in all school meals, extra produce is sold at a monthly farmer’s market to provide funds for school programs. Solar panels and wind turbines fuel their energy into a school generator and the small lake on their site provides hydropower.

“We’ve inherited our past…we are going to change our future,” remarked the engaging team from the Isle of Portland Aldridge Academy (IPACA). Designing a STEM Center that reflected local needs with key design elements incorporating the unique features of their island in Portland, UK, they blended the land and sea through architecture. Integrating biophilia, the sustainable domed science center inspired by a water droplet is constructed of algae powered glass sitting on the surface of the sea, half of the droplet underwater. Small “barnacle” working pods surround the droplet, added an element of fun to marine biology studies. Maker spaces provided the perfect environment for problem solving and a new way of learning.

Focusing on a healthy lifestyle, Kinected Academy harvests the energy of the students to power their school, converting kinetic energy of footsteps into renewable energy! A great deal of thought went into their planning process. Utilizing survey results to inform their design, the team considered the impact of the education process, role of the learning environment and the different ways that students learn at their own pace. Promoting movement in learning, students and community, their goal was to design collaborative and innovative spaces for personalized project based learning. Sharing resources with the community, such as energy-producing biking and hiking trails, gardens and a greenhouse was at the top of their list to encourage healthy regimes. Extensive research on sustainable technologies was evident at Kinected Academy.

Opting to design a 21st century literature classroom with a detailed budget of almost $2 million, the St. Michael’s Academy prototype included a Narnia-themed library and a wheelchair-accessible stage for performances. Completing the project on time and under cost, the students donated monies back to the school for green projects. Careful attention was given to ensure good indoor air quality and the use of “Big Ass” fans, high efficiency windows and repurposed materials. Moveable, stackable desks accommodate virtual writing. An engaging color palette welcomes all—who wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to become a 21st century Shakespeare in this inspiring setting?

What’s next for SchoolsNEXT? Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, we were fortunate to have Frederick County Career & Technology Center, Frederick, MD design a pilot project for the impending high school component of SchoolsNEXT. Their 21st Century educational redesign addressed current overcrowding in magnet and special high schools, excluding many students from participating in these programs. Concern over how renovations would affect the environment led to the inclusion of renewable technologies and a variety of sustainable design elements, such as semi-permeable pavement solar panels, green roofing and double glass layer walls. The focus of the design was to maximize the space of the site and make learning for students more inclusive and positive. During an extensive planning process, the team decided to have three separate structures on the remodeled campus- the School of Design, the School of Service and the School of Fabrication. In addition to a large outdoor gathering space for group work and social activities, two outdoor classrooms lent a breath of fresh air to the campus. A system of Learning Stairs in the School of Design offers additional space for group projects, strengthening the bond of students at the school.

“Each year, I have the distinct pleasure of experiencing the best and the brightest from across the globe,” commented David Schrader, AIA, LEED AP, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Association for Learning Environments. “The students continue to raise the bar each year in the rigorous competition. Their desire to transform education, empower students and create true community is remarkable. I am sure you will agree with me when I say, ‘our future is in good hands.’”

For more information, visit

Share this Page

Subscribe to SP&M E-News

School Planning & Management's free email newsletter keeping you up-to-date and informed.

I agree to this sites Privacy Policy.