Does a school design cause behavior problems?

Katherine - posted on 12/21/2010 ( 8 moms have responded )




How easily can you expect children to learn when they describe their learning environment as "soul deadening"? And believe it or not, it's not even the teachers that they're speaking of. The community of Washington D.C.'s Dunbar Senior High School is currently arguing over a $100 million makeover of the vintage school and if it will solve the behavior and education issues that tend to escalate with each passing year.

The virtually windowless, 1970s-vintage hexagon-and-high-rise school just recently received walls last year (the 1970's "open" design had certainly withstood the test of time), and large portions of the 343,000 square-foot building are empty and difficult to secure, giving the students the perfect hideout for hookups, smoking, skipping class, or whatever else their delinquent little hearts desire.

Members of the community are arguing that it's not worth the investment and that it's ridiculous to put blame on the building's design. After all, top colleges such as Harvard have been around for centuries, pushing out the education elite. And certainly, not all of their classrooms are state-of-art. But as someone who went to high school in a similar 1970s design, I can say from personal experience that it's absolutely worth it.

My high school had the typical wall-less "pod-style" open classrooms that were, for some reason, so popular in the early 70's. So while I was sitting in French class, I was also learning Latin (carpe diem mon ami!). I can't stress how irritating that was, both for the students and the teachers. Not to mention, the circular structure made it very difficult to have proper ventilation, meaning kids were sick -- a lot. Therefore, having to miss school and important lessons and tests, causing their grades to sink. Similar to the D.C. school, we also didn't have windows in the building, which more than several studies have shown, does have a positive impact on a child's ability to learn. And a child's ability to learn oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with their behavior.

It was horrible, and I'm happy to say that the school has since been updated (unfortunately, my graduating class had to suffer through the construction but didn't get to benefit from it). Whether or not it helps these D.C. students, only time will tell, though it will obviously take more than just a quick interior design fix -- teachers and parents need to also do their parts. But it certainly can't hurt, and, if I was a parent, I'd want anything and everything to be done to make the most of my child's learning experience.

Do you think upgrading the school's design will help?


JuLeah - posted on 12/21/2010




The kids need to have ownership and buy-in. They need to value it. It needs to matter to them, so make is a project. Use their math, reading, and art skills to design the new building and make it a place they want to spend 6+ hours a day.
Have them work in tream with professionals who know law and design to guide them. Get the parents involved too. Make it represent the students, their culture/s, their visions and dreams .... give the community a voice.


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Katherine - posted on 12/21/2010




I remember the cubicles too. It was walls, but those partitions. I don't remember having windows either.....or in middle school. I was really rebellious then.

Tara - posted on 12/21/2010




You bet I do!
The 70's were a bad time for education. In parts of Canada, they dropped phonics for reading and replaced it with whole word sight reading.
They adopted this insane open concept environment that surely must lead to or contribute to ADD and ADHD cases.
Kids need sunlight!!! Having no windows (or few) in a school is awful. It's prison like and punitive in its very design,
I really believe if they change the environment, they will change how these kids learn. Not just what but HOW. So very important in my opinion.

Amanda - posted on 12/21/2010




If it would be cheaper to remodel rather than rebuild than yes. If it is going to be cheaper to just tear down the school and rebuild it than that's what I would do. I mean I've heard of schools having some similar problems, like the windowless rooms, and odd setups, and pale colored walls. It's a tough situation to really just "fix" quickly. And once they come to a decision on what they are going to do how many other schools are going to come out of the woodwork expecting changes as well....

[deleted account]

Yes, environment plays a huge role in learning. But it's only one aspect. It can help, but it won't be the magic pill to the school's problems.

Jenn - posted on 12/21/2010




It would cost that much to fix it? Wouldn't it be far cheaper to rip it down and build a new one?

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