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Modern School Design From Students’ Perspectives

Students around the nation are adapting to a year of learning through virtual conference rooms and mask coverings. Whether their time is spent learning entirely at home or partially on location, students are creating new processes to continue their education during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they begin to immerse themselves in these new efforts, our team at Wold Architects and Engineers wanted to hear their perspective. A few weeks into the 2020-2021 school year, we interviewed students of various ages to see how school is going and how it shapes their views on the future. Through these conversations, we hope that these opinions can inform our ideas for modern school design in the future.

As we began our interviews, we wanted to see how students have been learning best during COVID. Most of the students summarized that things are going okay, though they are yearning to return to a social atmosphere. The students recalled many examples that supported this idea. For an elementary school student, she said, “I miss the playtime I was able to have with friends.” Going along with that, most middle and high schoolers stated that they miss the time they got to socialize with peers, both in class and during free times. One high schooler said, “although it’s easier to focus without my friends around, I miss having the social aspect and the ability to collaborate with friends during study time.”

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An overarching theme was that students would enjoy seeing more freedom in the future with their education. Many provided rationale as to why they’d like to see individuality in their learning. To accommodate distance learning, many schools have shifted to a block schedule with longer classes. Most students have responded positively to this schedule change, citing that more freedom has led to a more effective use of their time. One middle-schooler pointed out that because of COVID, he’s had more time during the school day to study. In his opinion, he hopes that teachers update schedules to allocate more time to completing assignments with supervision. Through experience in distance learning, some of the high schoolers we interviewed pointed out they would like more options for how they can customize their schedule. Whether that is all online, all in-class, or a variation, several students said this type of learning has shown them how they work best for particular tasks.

As to how schools could change curriculum wise, several students had insightful ideas for what they’d like to learn in the future. A middle schooler pointed out that he’d like to see more technology classes offered, as both he and his friends are interested in STEM. Several students also highlighted the need for courses that focus on life skills. One high schooler said, “I don’t have a class offered that focuses on adult-things like personal finance or how to build a resume. I’d like to see some general things added in school to help me grow as an adult.” Beyond curriculum offerings, students also had several ideas on how their school could look.

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Many of the students hope to see advancements in how their building can enhance their learning. This includes a wish from a high schooler who hoped to see more of the outdoors. “If I were to enhance my current high school, I would love to see more windows throughout the building. Often I’m studying under artificial lighting, and I’d feel more at ease with natural lighting.” A first grader suggested her class should get more areas for naptime. Naptime wasn’t the only item we heard that surrounded being comfortable. Many of the students highlighted that they would enjoy seeing more comfortable seating in their schools to study, read, or socialize with friends. One middle-schooler said, “While working from home, my online classes seem to go faster, maybe it’s because I’m able to sit somewhere more comfortable.” What may seem like an out-of-the-box idea from a student can translate into a tangible concept for the future of educational design.

Our purpose at Wold is to make a difference in the communities we serve. Hearing the voices of student communities helps our team understand how to create great spaces for better learning. We will continue to include students in our design conversations to inform us of how they’d like to see modern schools designed. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (651) 227-7773 or email Otherwise, stay tuned for an upcoming article that includes a reflection from our architects on how these opinions will help to shape future modern school design.

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