In 2016, I participated in the national XQ Super School Challenge. My team and I weren’t one of the school concepts selected, though we did make it through the first two application rounds, and the entire experience really pushed my thinking about the essential ingredients of an ideal school. As part of the initial research/data-gathering process, I asked students, friends, and family to share their own input. See below for their insightful responses.
Question: I’m part of a team taking on a school redesign challenge and would appreciate your input. What would your ideal high school look like? Please share your ideas!
Former Students (US and Abroad)
- Two kind of main grades that can be achieved based on one subject. One is the traditional assessment papers and the second one would be your attitude and active behavior in the classes.
- In general: fewer tests. Only have graded tests once or twice a year. The other tests should all be based on getting proper feedback, so the student knows what he has to improve and how. Education should be about gaining knowledge instead of studying for grades.
- Natural light, open spaces dotted with structures that you could climb/sit on and be inspired by, plenty of circular meeting places with varying textures/atmospheres, lots of nature.
- Our high school has so much natural light the teachers almost never have to turn on the lights- and the tech high school looks like a college campus- and the cool part is – in spite of the dire warnings that the comfy chairs and nice tables would be trashed- five years out it turns out- the kids have kept it nicer than the teachers keep the office!
Friends/Family (not educators)
- The building should include green technologies such as lots of natural light and continuous fresh air exchange through good filters from the HVAC system.
- It would be great to think about how the larger community could use the space, depending on school calendar. School facilities are, in many ways, underutilized during evenings, summers etc. incorporating public space or building useful for public events…
- Childcare space for teachers and maybe students. And exercise facilities that teachers would use in addition to students.
- Oh, make it easier for kids to be able to bring food from home and be able to heat it. And design lunch distribution systems that give actual time to sit and eat once they get lunch.
- Water distributor in the classrooms, uniforms, ten minutes break each 30 minutes of lesson, leaving shoes outside, mini-library in the classroom (number of books=number of students), renewable energy powering it, big windows, high-tech tools available at each desk.
- A foreign language mother-tongue teacher, from the first day of primary school up to the last day of university.
- Natural light and/or a semi-outdoors kind of space. There is nothing worse than four white cinder block walls and artificial light. It was suffocating as a kid.
- My daughter’s history class has individual, large wooden desks, which she likes. My kids also seem to like it when the rooms have less traditional set-ups, like large round tables. My ideal school would have more wood (floors, desks, big tables) and a library with big windows and large leather chairs.
- My daughter’s high school has a no-kidding, respectable aquarium that is student run. Only one like it in the nation, I believe.
- Classrooms that encourage standing, fidgeting, and moving around.
- I would hope to incorporate green technology and a garden/compost program to feed the students. And use this green technology as a classroom, have students learn how to build, use, run, maintain it.
- Lots of vocational skill classes, bring back wood shop, auto shop, and a good dose of home economics, everyone isn’t going to graduate with a comfy job that pays regardless of skill or ambition… provide real world skills and the individual can prosper… check out the “Mike Rowe Works Foundation” for some inspiration.
- Water filtration systems to reuse water on site. And those big solar panel carport things over parking lots. Fruit trees that the kids/neighborhood can eat from.
- A facility that says “you have a human right to a good education – you are valued.”
- My ideal HS would have the Ramones somewhere on the premises.
- Didn’t see if anyone else posted this but good nutrition in the meals is an oft-overlooked aspect to good learning but so critical. There is so much research behind this, but it’s somehow overlooked. Of course, the usual: small classes, small classes, small classes. Ironically, though, I think large schools work. [My son] is in a very large school (3000 kids), and it actually lessens peer pressure and cliques quite a bit, because who knows who is who?