Two of Garmann Miller’s educational visioning and design leaders—Becky Baumer and Hannah Holtzapple—recently attended the Association for Learning Environments LearningSCAPES conference, Oct. 12–15, in Chicago. The global event provided an opportunity for collaboration among attendees, all of whom are committed to improving the planning, design and construction of K-12 learning environments.
Baumer, a professional interior designer who recently earned her Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP) certification from A4LE, oversees GM’s educational visioning efforts. She provided the following highlights from LearningSCAPES 2023.
Intersection of education, design: One of the unique aspects of LearningSCAPES is its diverse attendee base. Architects, designers, superintendents and directors of facilities from forward-thinking school districts convene to exchange ideas and perspectives. This merger of expertise creates fertile ground for discussions on how design impacts learning.
Bridging the gap: A standout session at the conference shed light on the growing trend of schools partnering with community organizations to provide essential services to students and families. This collaborative approach acknowledges that a student’s success isn’t solely the school’s responsibility but a collective effort. Initiatives like on-site health clinics, run in conjunction with healthcare organizations, exemplify this trend. These services enhance accessibility and support both the students and their families, contributing to a conducive learning environment.
SEB integration: LearningSCAPES is at the forefront of incorporating social, emotional, behavioral considerations into educational design. Baumer and Holtzapple toured Chicago-area projects as part of the conference where this was evident. Spaces emphasized factors such as color theory, flexible furniture arrangements and outdoor learning areas. These elements work in tandem to create environments that foster holistic development and support the emotional well-being of students.
Power of visioning: One of the key takeaways from the conference is the significance of visioning and community engagement sessions at the outset of a project. These sessions allow for a deep understanding of a school’s unique needs, enabling designers to craft solutions tailored to their specific requirements. Connecting with educators and students to better understand their challenges and goals ensures that the designed spaces are not just functional, but transformative.
Design as a catalyst for change: The conviction that our physical surroundings profoundly influence our development is a driving force behind the LearningSCAPES community. Poorly designed schools send a different message compared to thoughtfully crafted environments. The conference serves as a testament to the power of design in setting the stage for educational excellence.
Baumer values A4LE’s focus on research-backed approaches, community collaboration and holistic student development, as she collaborates with educators on creating environments where all students can excel.
“I love our visioning sessions at the beginning of a project where we help find unique solutions a school needs to make a difference for their kids,” she said. “When we meaningfully connect with educators, students, and community members, we better understand what they’re going through, and we can help make it better.”