Change the Environment to Change Behavior


A “high level of student engagement may be at least partially due to the school’s new Lithgow Building, which opened last August. The historic building was renovated with a trauma-informed design that houses the school’s lower and middle grades. “In many elementary schools, people use bright primary colors,” says Codman’s executive director Meg Campbell. “But for kids who’ve been traumatized or on the autism spectrum, red can be a trigger.”

. . . Campbell says she has seen a dramatic improvement in students’ behavior following the Lithgow renovation, even with the addition of 44 more students this school year.“Last year we had 16 students with 50 different incidents that warranted a suspension,” Campbell says. “This year to date, we’ve had three students with six incidents warranting suspension to date. If you put kids in a different environment, the behavior changes, and the teachers are happier.” [Bold added]

—Susan Johnston Taylor, “Want To Keep More Kids In School? Design A Smarter Classroom” on Good

Regenerative Schools

By Michael Ripoll (The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

“In short, the concept of regenerative urban development aims to ensure that we implement comprehensive strategies for an enhancing, restorative relationship between an urbanising humanity and the ecosystems from which we draw resources for our sustenance. This is achieved by transforming the metabolism of the city from a linear throughput of resources to a circulating system, where resources are recycled, renewables are maximised and consumption and pollution is greatly reduced.”

–Lorna Howarth, “Ecopolis: The emergence of ‘regenerative cities'”

I noted in another post that some thinking in ecological circles is shifting to what we might call a post-sustainability model, meaning that we are coming to terms with the harsh reality that we are depleting our natural resources at a rate far greater than we might once have wanted to admit. Merely sustaining what remains of the natural world is not enough.
In the article quoted above, the author discusses designing “regenerative” cities, in which city inputs and outputs are integrated with the intent of regenerating natural resources.
This idea of a regenerative, circulating system, rather than a linear throughput of resources and waste, is an idea worth applying to a school ecosystem. In ways both metaphorical and literal, schools mindlessly consume resources and produce waste.
Rather than only the regeneration of the natural world, in the case of a school system, the regeneration we would seek is the restoration of the social and economic capital of the community the school serves.
An oasis of a disciplined and nurturing school in the midst of urban or rural blight is a gem well worth cherishing, but without burgeoning local economic and social opportunity in tandem with the education offered its youth, such a school is boxed into a corner.
How can we design schools as circulating systems, working in tandem with their local communities to create increased opportunities and enrichment for both adults and children?