Going Local

A new generation of K-12 schools is moving beyond the classroom to reflect each community’s specific needs and priorities.

In a small but significant way, rapper Snoop Dogg is playing a role in the design of the new campus for Long Beach Polytechnic High School. During the design process, students and graduates repeatedly referenced an iconic photo of the Long Beach Poly alumnus posing in his letterman jacket in front of the entrance to the 100-year-old Southern California campus.

In response to passionate public input, LPA’s team included elements of the old façade in the new campus, connecting the school to its role in music history.

“As we explored the architecture of the new, we wanted to make sure that we were also paying homage to the façade’s cultural significance,” says LPA Project Designer Stephanie Matsuda-Strand. “The Snoop Dogg image is so well known within the community and such a source of pride, we wanted to keep the essence of that on this campus.”

Responding to the community’s priorities in the design of K-12 campuses can take many forms, beyond salutes to famous alum. From career tech environments focused on local industries to day care centers for campus employees, school campuses can be personalized to better serve their neighborhoods. Campuses become extensions of the neighborhoods, reflecting their culture and aspirations.

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Elements of the façade spotlighted in this iconic image from Snoop Dogg’s 2008 Ego Trippin’ album may be part of the new Long Beach Polytechnic High School.

“It’s extending the bookends of what K-12 is,” says LPA Director of K-12 Kate Mraw. “It’s about the school responding to the local needs, whether that’s teacher retention, career training or resources for the community. A school can serve many roles for the larger community.”

No two schools are alike. Finding the elements that make a campus unique and representative of its place takes a deep dive into the community, going beyond the school walls to explore the elements that are meaningful to parents, students and educators.

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An open, front-porch-style entry helps connect Patrick Henry Elementary School to the community.
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The Long Beach Poly campus will blend the old and new to maintain the school’s traditions, history and culture.

We really wanted the campus to be part of the fabric of the community.” — Lindsay Hayward, LPA Project Designer

Asking Different Questions

The process begins with inclusive community outreach, working to get diverse groups actively engaged in discussing what the school can be. No one approach or series of meetings will do it. Asking different questions can lead to different answers, taking on wellness, equity and larger neighborhood issues.

“It really is about the place and placemaking,” says LPA Project Designer Lindsay Hayward. “We’re asking questions like ‘How will you define success for this project?’ And then we’re digging in to understand the place, the context and who the project serves.”

For Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim, California, the process revealed the school’s close ties to the surrounding neighborhood. Local residents had their own entrance to the campus and used the school in many different ways. Most of the students walk to school. Designers focused on the idea of the campus as a second home for the community.

“That came straight out of the principal’s mouth in our first meeting,” Hayward says. “He said if the new campus felt like a second home for every student, staff and family member, it would be a success, and that became the driver of the design concept.”

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Unique insights from Hutto ISD’s rural community informed the design of the new elementary school.

Designers set the school back from the road to create a front yard for the campus. The entrance is the welcoming front porch; administration and public spaces are the living room; and a courtyard is the backyard. An amphitheater and multipurpose room were designed to host community events.

During the local discussions, two elements emerged as particularly important to the community. One was the library — the nearest public library is miles away, which is prohibitive for people without a car. In response, the library was placed at the front of the campus, allowing public access. A secure zone was created on the interior of the library, including two-way bathrooms that can be locked down at night when the library is open to the public. An innovation lab adjacent to the library can be used for community computer training and similar classes.

The community also regularly used the school parking lot for fairs, food drives and other events. The new campus will include a plaza specifically designed to host community activities, with seat walls, power, trees and shade. Nooks are provided for tents and tables.

“We really wanted the campus to be part of the fabric of the community,” Hayward says.

Schools can respond to the community’s needs in many ways. And every district has its own priorities. Regional issues can be addressed on a campus, helping to make them competitive and responsive.

In Hutto, Texas, where teacher recruitment and retention are a priority, a new elementary school in development will include a day care center, which will help support staff and teachers. In the past, Hutto ISD, a rural district north of Austin, used portable classrooms as makeshift facilities to host day care centers for teachers.

“This is the first time they’ve built a permanent facility within one of their campuses,” says LPA Design Director Jim Oppelt. “The plan is to continue to implement the day care centers in other areas as the district moves forward.”

The day care center is connected to the elementary school but functions as a stand-alone facility, with its own entry and play area. At the same time, the design creates links to the main campus, with easy access to the nurse and other resources.

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A day care center is seamlessly integrated into the layout of Hutto’s new elementary school.

The center is scaled for small learners, with areas unique to a day care center. There is also a direct connection to activated outdoor play and learning areas.

In the main campus, each learning “neighborhood” will include teacher development workrooms and areas for teachers to have their own space.

“Hutto will be able to offer amenities for teachers and set them apart from other districts,” Oppelt says.

The new Hutto ES will also reflect the school’s history and culture in one other unique way — Hutto ISD is home to the only school in the country with a hippo as its mascot. (The most common explanation: In 1915 a hippo escaped from a circus train during a stop in Hutto. Today there are more than 5,000 concrete hippo statues in the city.) Hippos will be integrated into the play areas and other elements of the campus.

“As you’d imagine, it’s a big deal,” Oppelt says.

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It’s extending the bookends of what K-12 is.” — Kate Mraw, LPA Director of K-12

Community Connections

Beyond mascots, links to a community’s culture and roots can strengthen equity and inclusion in schools and help learners understand their past and future. For Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, murals painted by local artists and a re-created Japanese garden will maintain the reimagined campus’s connection to its past.

Similar to Roosevelt HS, Long Beach Poly, which dates to 1895, has multigenerational alumni within the same family. Teachers and coaches at that school are alumni; parents and grandparents are alumni. “It’s this very familial recipe of people who really care about the history of the school and are very passionate about the future for Poly students,” Matsuda-Strand says.

LPA’s long-term planning effort for the campus included a cross section of the community, with more than 20 people taking an active role in the process. For three months the group explored what was important to the community, and the best strategies for blending the old and new in a school that houses about 4,000 students. The community eventually approved a bond measure to fund the design of the new campus, which will represent the community for the next generations.

Based on the input during the planning process, the career and technology education (CTE) building was expanded from two to three stories, and it was relocated closer to science buildings to create more energy between programs. The design for the CTE building followed the district’s specifications to create equity with other campuses and added support for the medical pathway — a community priority.

“The more we dug in and understood their existing campus, the more we realized that there were these other programs that should all be under the umbrella of the same building,” Matsuda-Strand says.

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The new entry for Hutto ISD’s elementary school will also help the school save on energy costs.
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Outdoor play and learning areas at Hutto ISD’s new day care center are scaled for small learners.

The expanded CTE space also created more open space on campus, a key priority. The outdoor spaces will serve as learning environments, as well as social areas.

“It’s something that students covet these days; it’s something that teachers covet,” Matsuda-Strand says. “Wellness was really important to the stakeholders during planning, and part of their view of wellness was being able to socialize and study in fresh air and sunlight.”

More than anything, the Poly redesign seeks to preserve and build upon the school’s role in the community. The school will develop the next generation of community leaders, a task that can’t be taken lightly.

Farther south, in Cajon Valley Union School District in El Cajon, California, LPA designers are working with the district and Workforce Connect to offer students hands-on experiences in different career paths. Maker spaces, co-labs and other facilities will support the group’s goal of creating real-world experiences that are relevant to the community, strengthening the district’s ties to local industry.

“It’s about building the future stewards and influencers in the community,” Mraw says. “We’re building schools that are developing the type of people who will elevate their community and make it strong for years to come.”