Brave New School

Imagine a community where education is a lifestyle; where residents are attracted to the community based on commitment to family and continuous improvement; a place where institutions, businesses and residents work hand-in-hand to improve the quality of life and the resources available to everyone within the community. Such a place is currently on the drawing boards. Califia, a cradle-to-grave educational community being planned in northern California, is slated to start construction in less than five years.

Anne, an imaginary 11-year-old, has elected to attend the Califia Environmental Community as her home base. She is an “N-Gener” who has grown up surfing the net. She demands access to an excellent education and realizes that involves a lifelong commitment to learning. She needs the guidance of a good teacher who serves as a mentor, coach, guide, counselor and collaborator in the development of a personal education plan.

At 8:30 a.m., her personal interactive communicator (PIC) reminds her that she has a meeting at 10:30 with her learning group. They are meeting to finish up their presentation on natural ways to control pests and insects. Later in the day they will be making a presentation to area farmers, as well as the University of California farm advisors who will be judging their work.

Anne quickly pulls on her aerobic outfit, as her personal communicator reminds her to grab a glass of orange juice, bran cereal and a bowl of fruit. These items will balance her diet from yesterday as she celebrated a friend’s birthday over dinner. By 9:00 she’s hurrying off to meet Keith at the fitness center for a quick workout. She completes all of her physical education requirements and her fitness program database is automatically updated by communicating with her PIC. Timing and exertion rates are quickly noted, calibrating a suggested weight program for tomorrow, which will balance out today’s aerobic session.

She looks around the fitness center and sees a sea of familiar faces. The center is available to all members of the community 24 hours a day. By 10:15, she is showered, dressed and boarding the tram which will take her to the Environmental Community.

At the Califia Environmental Community, students don’t all arrive at 8 a.m. They come and go, based upon their activities. As she enters the campus, Anne walks through a variety of landscapes containing different plant species and native plants. There is no parking on site, and all of the buildings are built of environmentally sensitive materials. The facility generates all of its own power and has a closed water system that purifies its water through a series of ponds that are used by the students to explore the environment.

As she walks across the bridge past the museum and interpretive center, she is reminded of the important role that the delta plays in the health and economy her community of Lathrop. She can’t help but be filled with pride as she sees the exhibit on local waterfowl that she and four friends completed at the beginning of last year. She is also impressed by the living computer model that simulates life within the delta, and the daily effects that people have on the surrounding environment.

She arrives at the Learning Center by 10:30, and the team quickly dives into finishing their multimedia presentation. As Anne walks into the center, her facilitator is informed that she’s on the premises and is heading for a meeting with her team. The Learning Center is home for 150 learners of all ages. This morning there are only about 50 learners in the center, but there is a hum of activity created by students focused on their work.

As the project is coming together, they note that they are still missing a few images from their experimental garden, as well as some information on an organic farm in Saugus, Calif. Two of Anne’s teammates quickly access information on the Web, picking up information through the use of their PICs. How nice it is not to have bulky display units and keyboards! Information is available through voice-activated controls, a wireless earpiece and retinal display.

At 1 p.m., their presentation completed, they head off for lunch at the food court. Anne says hello to another friend, who is working in the restaurant as an apprentice as she prepares to transfer to UC Davis in the fall, entering as a sophomore in the culinary arts program. It’s nice to see a number of members from the community eating with their kids, or grabbing a quick bite after visiting the interpretive center and eco-ponds.

At 2 p.m., the review team arrives at the Information Technology Center. Members of the team are personally greeted, since many have mentored the students throughout the project. As Anne greets Dr. Draa from the Department of Agriculture, his business card info is automatically transferred through her PIC and directly entered into her database.

The students are using one of the five virtual reality advanced simulation rooms for today’s presentation. Each member of the jury is handed a bound copy of the students’ report. They are amazed at the depth of the students’ study, as well as their high-tech, personalized presentation. Anne leads off with an interactive PowerPoint presentation laced with streaming media and music. Another team member describes a non-invasive mosquito trap they have invented, which traps the insects without the use of pesticides or other invasive actions. He describes their unique invention through the use of computer models and a rapid prototype developed through the use of a 3-D printer. The exhibits allow the review team to appreciate the team’s imagination and forethought.

The last presenter dazzles the group through the use of good old-fashioned storytelling, describing how early settlers in the San Joaquin Delta understood and controlled insects without the use of 21st-century chemicals. Their project is already published on the Web, making it accessible to millions of other learners around the globe. The participants, review team, members of the community and parents are impressed with the work that students have done, far exceeding anyone’s expectations.

After the presentation, Dr. Draa of the Agriculture Department asks Anne for a tour of the students’ experimental garden. Together they tend the small plot, picking many vegetables to take to the food court to be incorporated into salads and side dishes in tonight’s meals. Anne then hurries off to the tram, which takes her to the Califia Olympic Community, where she joins other members of the girls’ softball team, who are already hard at work building their skills for this weekend’s game. Many of her friends on the team have chosen the Olympic Community as their home base, where they focus on fitness and understanding the body as a way to learn the Califia core concepts.

That night Anne, her sister and their parents have a quiet dinner at home and share the experiences of the day. How the world has changed in the last 10 years! It truly does take a community- country- world to educate a child.

Gaylaird Christopher, AIA, a nationally recognized expert in the design of learning environments, is a principal of Perkins & Will. He has authored many papers regarding innovations in educational design and funding, and lectures extensively. Christopher has served as Chair of the American Institute of Architects’ National Committee on Architecture for Education