Five MA Communities Welcome Students to SMMA-Designed Schools

Designed to provide learning environments where positive socialization can flourish, five schools designed by SMMA opened this week across Massachusetts. Students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors were welcomed by their teachers into Wellesley High, Grafton High, Tewksbury Memorial High, Billerica Parker Elementary and The Center Schools.

While each school is a distinctive reflection of the educational needs of the individual community, these new facilities collectively offer tangible evidence of a bold new academic and social mission. With the goal of preparing students for a world transformed by global competition and a knowledge-based economy, today’s K-12 teaching environments are a dramatic departure from the conventional schools built in the past 100 years.

Learning Communities
Describing the differences between these new schools and the older traditional facilities, SMMA’s Director of Institutional Practice, Alex Pitkin, AIA, said the change is nothing short of transformational. “Each of these new schools, and the design strategies behind each, share a common goal. Students respond well within a learning environment where they can develop individual creativity, collaborate, and form positive bonds with peers, teachers and staff. Successful socialization of each student is recognized as an essential outcome of childhood education today.”

This translates to creating an entirely new design program and layout, especially in high schools where neighborhood modules or clusters of classrooms are grouped together. These smaller pods connect to the larger school with easy access to the school auditorium, cafeteria and other ‘Main Street’ gathering spaces. According to Pitkin, “this approach allows students to gather into smaller communities of learning that share a core group of teachers and support spaces.”

Technology to Support Education
What all five new schools have in common is a transformational leap in technology features to support modern learning. In Grafton High School, for example, each student is receiving a new iPad to connect them with the school’s teaching tools and building-wide WIFI network.  In many of the new schools, interactive white boards in the classrooms allow students to download information posted by teachers as a study aid. The 280,000-square-foot Wellesley High School, which opened earlier than planned immediately following winter break, integrates technology with sustainable design. Geothermal heating and cooling system, 40 KW solar panel array, high efficiency lighting and high performance mechanical systems reduce energy demand significantly throughout the building. An interactive energy data display dashboard in the school’s lobby – and accessible online – shows the building’s energy use, heating and cooling demand, water savings and photovoltaic solar energy production in real time.

Community Investments
These schools are receiving enthusiastic reviews by students, teachers and local officials. "To say I’m proud to be principal is an understatement,” Grafton High School Principal, James Pignataro, said.

Billerica Selectmen Chairman Andrew Deslaurier described the difference between municipal spending and investing. "This is an investment," he said. "This transforms an entire community."

Dr. Patricia A. Lally, Assistant Superintendent of Tewksbury Public Schools and former Principal of Tewksbury Memorial High School, said “The opening of our new High School speaks to the value the Tewksbury community places on education. I am proud and grateful to have been part of the “Tewksbury Team”parents, students, residents, town and school officials, Heery, SMMA, and CTA.  Now, along with an outstanding faculty, the children in Tewksbury have an incredible learning environment.”