The Brighter Side of Education

Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal

June 29, 2023 Dr. Lisa R. Hassler Season 1 Episode 19
The Brighter Side of Education
Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, I focus on school facilities design. How does the design of school buildings and classrooms impact student learning?

Mary Ruppenthal discusses  future trends in school design. She is a registered architect and an Associate Principal at HED, one of the oldest and largest architecture and engineering firms in the country (

She has nearly 30 years of experience in public and private sector educational, civic, and cultural design. Mary oversees Pre-K-12 and community education projects and has devoted her career to collaborating with school districts in the design of innovative, high-performing educational facilities that enhance the user experience, maximize efficiency, and help shape the future for students of all ages.

Apart from their homes, schools are where children spend most of their time. While curriculum and teaching methods are vital, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the impact of school design on student performance. A well-designed educational environment can have a profound influence on student learning, engagement, and overall well-being.

Over the last fifteen years, evidence has been accumulating on the relationship between environments and users’ health. In 2020 a group of researchers conducted a comprehensive, systematic review focused on the effect of the educational environment design on students’ and teachers’ performance, satisfaction, and wellbeing that included 1,307 studies.

The overall results indicate that a series of school features, of both internal and external spaces, should be used, to fit with users’ needs and improve learning experiences.

Data showed the use of a pleasant, warm, and flexible learning space in both influencing students’ wellbeing and enhancing their academic marks.

In the long term, the results could reduce of the number of students who leave early, increased wellbeing of pupils with specific learning disorders, promote positive class social interactions (e.g.,reduction of bullying) and integration (e.g., reduction of ethnic prejudice), and prevention of teachers’ burn-out. The recent trends suggest that “classic” old-style schools are likely to disappear to leave room to new learnin

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Learn About Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Welcome to The Brighter Side of Education. I am your host, Dr. Lisa Hassler, here to enlighten and brighten the classrooms in America through focused conversation on important topics in education. In each episode, I discuss problems we as teachers and parents are facing and what are doing in their communities to fix it. What are the variables, and how can we duplicate it to maximize student outcomes? In this episode, I focus on school facilities design. How does the design of school buildings and classrooms impact student learning? Apart from their homes, schools are where children spend most of their time.

While curriculum and teaching methods are vital, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the impact of school design on student performance. A welldesigned educational environment can have a profound influence on student learning, engagement, and overall well being. Over the last 15 years, evidence has been accumulating on the relationship between environments and users health, and in 2020, a group of researchers conducted a comprehensive, systematic review of 1307 studies focused on the effect of the educational environment design on students and teachers performance, satisfaction, and wellbeing. The overall results indicated that a series of school features of both internal and external spaces should be used to fit with users needs and improve learning experiences.

Data showed the use of a pleasant, warm and flexible learning space in both influencing students well being and enhancing their academic marks, even though the presence of open spaces may also have a negative effect on students attention and sense of privacy. To increase the level of comfort, satisfaction, and performance, several studies identified the importance of designing classrooms with specific colors, pictures, and ergonomic furniture, also paying attention to the levels of acoustic, thermal comfort, ventilation, and natural lighting. Furthermore, to improve students learning and wellbeing, researchers recommended an integration of both indoor and outdoor learning. Green spaces showed relevant positive effects both on scholastic and social aspects.

In the long term, the results could reduce the number of students who leave early, increase the wellbeing of pupils with specific learning disorders, promote positive social interactions and integration, and aid in the prevention of teachers. Burnout. The recent trends suggest that classic old style schools are likely to disappear to leave room to new learning environments in the future. Here to discuss these future trends in school design is Mary Ruppenthal. She is a Registered architect and an Associate Principal at HED, one of the oldest and largest architecture and engineering firms in the country. She has nearly 30 years of experience in the public and private sectors of educational, civic, and cultural design.

Mary oversees Pre K through twelve higher ed and community education projects and has devoted her career to collaborating with school districts in the design of innovative, high performing educational facilities that enhance the user experience, maximize efficiency, and help shape the future for students of all ages. Welcome to the show, Mary.

Mary Ruppenthal

Thank you, Dr. Hassler. It's wonderful to be here.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Can you tell us about yourself and how you became interested in school design?

Mary Ruppenthal

I'd be happy to. My father was a contractor. After dinner, he would roll his set of drawings out on our dinner table. And so at an early age, I was really interested in how things kind of get built. So he would review his drawings for what was going to happen the next day. And I was able to kind of get a view into how things are planned and designed and constructed and through my own educational experience. Schools were kind of my second homes growing up. They were kind of the centers of my community. And I'm keenly aware of how impactful my educational environment was on my experience.

And some of my early experience working with an architecture firm, I realized how key and foundational educational environments can be in order to aspire students, and how academic environments can really enhance performance and have positive impacts for the community, the students, and everyone who participates in the educational environment. So I'd walked into a firm in San Francisco. Prior to that, I was doing tenant improvement work, mostly interiors and corn shells, learning how to run a project, a small project from start to finish. And I was directed by my boss at the time to go to another architect's office to pick up a set of drawings.

And I had just graduated from UC Berkeley with my master's degree, where I was really focused on sustainable design, also part of my upbringing in Wisconsin, learning a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright's work and how he was really focused on community and biophilia and all those things that really connect you with the environment. So this is kind of a culmination of me walking into this other architect firm's office. And prior to that point, honestly, Dr. Hasler, I remember a lot of architecture in architecture books and things like that, and images and awards really being all about the building as an object.

And the minute I walked into this office and saw photographs of these educational environments that had children front and center and that whole kind of change of the fact that educational environments is really student focused and it was reflection of how the work was viewed, it really got me excited about doing educational work. So I've been doing it for the last 20 plus years, and I love it.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

I was just over in France, and they have these enormous old structures. They're just beautiful. They're beautiful to look at. They're beautiful to be in. And so when you think about the detail and the thought that had to come into play to create that kind of a building, and it's just something you enjoy being in, like you enjoy being in buildings that are beautiful and how that kind of affects your, I guess, your attitude. I enjoy being in this building because it's so pretty and functionality as well. When I think about pools, universities, some universities have that kind of effect.

When you walk onto campus, you have this like oh my gosh, this is a beautiful campus, these are beautiful buildings and you want to be there. And a lot of times I don't really feel that way in our K through twelve buildings. They're very focused on need. Can you give a brief history of the evolution of our school designs and what your thoughts on on the open classroom design of the had to ask that because I was born in the schools were still around in my area. Some of them. I always thought they were fascinating because they were so different.

Mary Ruppenthal

Definitely, I mean, my mom actually grew up on a farm. She went to school in a one room schoolhouse with people from all ages. That's a reflection of there's a picture that I love that has her in the class, but she's mixed in with everyone from the community at all age groups. It was one teacher and one room and that was a reflection of where she grew up and what the need was in that community. They didn't need anything more. Certainly over time. I love what you shared about those kind of expansive volumes of European architecture that really is tied towards how you feel it's aspirational it's like you just feel so inspired and in spaces like that, certainly in educational architecture.

I want to bring up a quote by Winston Churchill that was kind of geared towards how we really should value our educational environments. He said, "First we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." And it was really a call to action to say we need to value our environments and really put understand how they affect us and how they do shape us. And certainly in the there was a trending towards one buildings that didn't have a lot of windows and we see those a lot today. And also the whole open concept plan where it's funny, it's very aligned to what's happening today.

The goal was collaboration and the goal was these collaborative experiences. In my elementary school, my first grade class was actually similar. It was two classes that were connected by an acoustical partition that didn't work very well. So there were times when our class could be because the teachers were kind of wanting to co teacher and there were times when the whole room was open so you would have 50 of us together. And the goal was to have these kind of breakout spaces and that's a lot of what's happening today. That room, it supported it. We had a lot of flexibility, but there was a lot of complaint over the acoustic issues.

And certainly I think the goal of it was a positive one to create these environments that allow for collaboration and then can change. Thankfully, we have new technologies and concepts around that that I think create a better environment. But and also the idea that classroom that's very inward facing that doesn't connect to the outdoors. There's so much data behind how the outdoors and connections to the outdoors. And having views to the outside isn't really a distraction. In fact, it's a benefit. Being able to kind of look long range outside helps you to kind of refocus on the moment versus being in a room nonstop that does not have any stimulus.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

You think about like someone looking outside and daydreaming. So I can see where at some point they were like, no windows, we're going to stop that daydreaming. I never thought about it in that way. So teaching during the pandemic, you were talking about how now education buildings have evolved and changed over time based on the needs of the community. And so we're just coming out of the pandemic and we saw how the infrastructure had to really change to support our technical needs and how we were trying to connect children in the classroom, children outside of the classroom.

And so we're starting to bring in those like zoom cameras and stuff. And so those changes definitely were a need for us to advance, but it's just the beginning. Your article, Educational Adaptive Spaces, discussed three growing trends in school design the untethered classroom, the spontaneous classroom, and the technical education classroom. Can you describe these?

Mary Ruppenthal

Absolutely, I'd love to. So the untethered classroom is really acknowledging the fact that technology has allowed us to not have a classroom that is focused on one wall where there used to be like one markerboard. That technology has allowed us to kind of free up the classroom space itself. Many times multiple walls of the classroom can be projection screens, allowing for multiple small group presentations to happen, or just flexibility in the room arrangement with the teacher wanting to present in a number of ways, or students presenting in a number of ways, or students presenting their work or interacting at the same time in a space.

As well as the fact that classroom isn't bound to four walls in and of itself, the fact that technology has moved throughout the campus. We have WiFi outside outdoor learning, happening teaching that actually moves out of the four walls of a classroom and even to other spaces on the campus. So schools that allow the flexibility of teaching locations has been assisted by technology. Also, some spaces that needed lab type support because of the benefits of technology sometimes have less of those kind of constraints. So it really does free you up to have a more adaptable kind of learning experience that does help you.

It's a reflection of what's happening today in society. There's a necessity to remain nimble, to be able to kind of adapt. And then the spontaneous classroom is kind of similarly driven by the idea that it's beneficial if an environment can adapt to different types of learning. Like I was describing with that acoustical partition between our classrooms in my first grade class, that was not very good now in our environments, we have garage doors that can open to the outdoors to create the ability for the class to move outside or to close or to connect to other types of spaces.

For classroom to be able to shape in different ways, including the furniture and things within it, as much as it can help support a variety of both functions and types of learning. It also is a reflection of not wanting to have spaces that are kind of stagnant and used for one purpose because those spaces are often underutilized. If it's just a theater versus something that can have telescoping seating and become a different kind of a room versus like fixed seating in a stage that kind of formal theater. We're working with a school district help rethink what performing arts is.

And I think it really allows more of the use of the student's imagination as well as creating a space that can be used by not only the school but by the community for events like weddings or comedy shows and to be actually used as part of a community amenity. So spontaneous classroom is just I think it also goes to all of the types of spaces we're building in schools that we can make them as dynamic and functional as possible, to be able to be utilized throughout the day in a number of ways and then technical education classrooms. Dr. Hassler, you asked about we understand that students who go through career technical education often have better outcomes after high school.

It really engages kind of a making learning by doing. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that we're trying to plan spaces for programs that we don't know what they're going to be in ten to 15 years as programs and technologies continue to evolve. Careers. What are careers going to be in 40 years from now that don't exist today? So we're always trying to look at how we can design educational environments that kind of can anticipate into the future. And so with CTE, these are spaces, career technical education spaces that often require a lot of infrastructure, whether it be compressed air for making enhanced ventilation, a lot of electrical requirements, a lot of technology.

When we're designing spaces now, we try to build in some redundancy. It's kind of called an open building concept whereby adding redundant systems now it will allow for easier renovation in the future. It also includes structural, like not having a braced frame on the interior of the space so that when the interior space needs to change, it has more of a fluidity to it. And while the first cost of putting in some of these systems to allow for future adaptation is a little bit higher in the long term, it's going to serve a school district further out into the future if we can kind of build in that flexibility.

So it's kind of what we're looking at. And the challenges of designing for the unforeseen is to try to anticipate when.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Might be that's a huge challenge to undertake because just with careers now, you think about 20 years ago, a lot of these careers were not even a thought. And so we're training children for something that we don't know yet. And so I can see how those spaces have to be open and flexible and have to be able to pivot. And then student mental health also and teacher burnout are some topics as well that are big concerns with our school systems. And you suggest supporting their needs at the facilities level. Can you describe a biophilic design and the flexible adaptive design?

Mary Ruppenthal

Sure. So what is biophilia? It's really the desire to connect with nature and that's inherent in all of us. And there's a lot of empirical analysis and studies that have illustrated both cognitive health and wellness benefits of a connection with nature. Terrapin BrightGreen is an organization that's put together a lot of data that also talks about the financial benefits beyond kind of the basic health and wellness and mental health benefits we all understand. If you go sit by the ocean and you're just thinking about that, just imagine you're sitting on a beach staring at the ocean.

Just thinking about it helps reduce blood pressure. But when you actually have these connections to nature, bringing nature indoors, things that kind of emulate nature materiality, the use of colors, often our color palettes are kind of inspired by earthy tones versus a primary color. To really kind of ground these views and actual physical connections to nature, how can we kind of emulate things that make you feel good in nature and bring those into the indoor environment? Refer back to the chart that Terra Pin Bright Green has that kind of illustrates all the cognitive benefits and the science behind it.

Just natural daylighting and things like there's a difference between abundant daylighting and excellent daylighting. Abundant daylighting might mean you have a screaming glare on your teaching wall. So just really being for us as architects, really to be very thoughtful about the building being a biological thing in and of itself that's supporting other biology, humanity, and how we really need to create our environments to really support humanity, support health and wellness, and really create kind of that warm, pleasant feel that allows you to perform well as a student, allows you to want to be at school, allows teachers to want to stay at the school teaching.

I mean, attendance, attendance is impacted when you compare a high performance school against kind of your bottom of the triangle, warm, safe, dry environment. It's astounding there's measurable results.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

So you mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright. My son went to a kindergarten, 1st, 2nd grade, tiny little school, and it was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. And I loved the school for that because when I walked into the building, the floor was actually stone pebbles. And then the way that it was set up. There was, like, the office in the middle, and they had four rooms that went off, and one was library, and then one was the kindergarten, first and second grade. And so they had this small thing. It was in the middle of a neighborhood you would have never known.

It was not a house. And the way that the natural light came in and the children played in what was like a backyard, and there were all the trees, and it just had such a calming effect as soon as you walked into the door. Kind of a feeling that I loved. And when I walked in and I saw that was a possibility for him to go to the school, I was like, Sign him up right now. And it was because of the feel feeling, and it was nice to be in the environment versus a lot of times when you come into some schools and they have the cinder block, it's a very different feeling, one that's very utilitarian and one that has that aesthetic quality that makes you want to hang out.

Have you ever built a campus or a school that had one of those school based health centers attached to it?

Mary Ruppenthal

We have. And also, thanks for sharing that story about your son's school. It sounds like a very special place. I'd love to learn more about it. It sounds like, truly like a second home, that's what schools are, is the home away from home. And it sounds wonderful. School based health centers. Dr. Hasler wish we'd see more of them oftentimes. They're a function of how the district is funded, what their partnerships would be. Los Angeles Unified School District has done a number of kind of wellness centers down in San Jose. There's a district that has these on campus.

And the benefits of locating these kinds of services on an educational campus speak to trying to really serve the entire community in a more cohesive way, in a more kind of whole person way. Acknowledging the fact that it's so much easier to take care of somebody, to take care of a health issue if you're not having to go across town and things like that. So I really love when districts and school communities can create those kinds of partnerships. I think it's really important and very beneficial to family units.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah, I've only read about them. I haven't seen them. I've always wished that I could see one working. And I just think to be able to have something that would be able to serve the needs of the child and the parents, to help that family in just a little bit more timely manner and simplify the process would just be very nice. Especially when you're thinking about vision or vaccines, simple things like that. The school requires. So to be able to have a partnership where that's something that's on campus seems to make sense to me. I think that would be nice to see more of in the future.

Mary Ruppenthal

And actually I'm kind of going beyond just health centers. Redwood City and local school district here put out a bond that was approved and it included funding for what are called family centers. So they have a number of middle school campuses that have connecting building that's part of the main office right next to it. It's basically a family center. So it's at the front of the school. It's interconnected but also somewhat separate so parent can take their child to school and then go straight to the family center and get services, including things like legal counsel, housing help, where to get free food services, english as a second language services.

So it really is truly kind of a center of community. It kind of takes the health care part and expands it into any kind of service that families in that community might need.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

How often is it that in education we're trying to find those resources to be able to connect to our families when we see that there's a need. How wonderful that something like that would be right there to help serve their needs and fill in those gaps of knowledge so that they can access things that are there and available. But so many times if you're not aware that it's even there, you're not going to be able to access it. So to be able to have someone that's cognizant of all of those services and then be able to connect them right away just supports the community and the families in such a wonderful way that helps lift everybody up.

And I think that would be wonderful. I'd love to see one of those for sure. Thinking about school shootings safety has been a concern. How has that been shaping the school designs in the future or things that you're seeing come up as ways to make schools more safe?

Mary Ruppenthal

Again, such an important topic that's on everyone's mind. Dr. Hassler every district we engage with, it's like one of the forefronts of thinking. So certainly things like creating a clear single point of entry, the idea of kind of these open campuses where a lot of west coast schools are kind of like all open outdoor. We're trying to create really attractive perimeters, but perimeters that can be surveyed either using the building as the perimeter if we can, in more dense environments so you don't have just fencing around the school, but also using storefront systems that look a little bit more welcoming.

The idea of that single point of entry so there's more control as well as things like ensuring that there are multiple ways out of a classroom. And this is beneficial too for teachers. Oftentimes they want interconnectedness to kindergarten classrooms. The teachers want a door so they can kind of co teach or look over their colleagues classrooms if they leave for a few seconds or something and then connections even doors to the exterior but having kind of multiple doors out of a classroom is beneficial. And then the idea of communities that are fostering transparency, there's a lot of talk around.

Is transparency better than closed? We advocate for more openness, the ability to see to see each other, to see what's coming, as well as the idea of a lot of districts really advocate for what's called small learning communities, where even in a large school, you have these learning communities. They might in a high school, be focused around different kinds of curriculum focus. Like at Oakland Unified, they have an environmental design pathways for students that learning small learning community. And then at younger ages, it's really just grouping buildings and classrooms so that you kind of create a small learning community.

And the idea of like 250 being an ideal number, where everyone kind of still knows each other and can kind of keep track of each other. And so it's the idea of relational safety, the fact that you create these communities where everyone can feel included and also create a larger campus community that really does focus on inclusion and belonging. And how do you create space for that so that you can start to identify people who are feeling alienated or start to see who may be falling through the cracks. And that's why I think that kind of visibility openness, really focusing on inclusion and belonging and creating kind of spaces that support community.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah, I mean, I like the way you're thinking of it. Like the safety point. Like, there's single point of entry, and then there's like, all right, well, now you're in the classroom, and if something was to happen, you need to have multiple pathways to be able to access and to exit that room. And then thinking about like, well, what are we doing to help? It not even get to that point. Right? How do we help on a community level, promoting the positive social interactions and the integrations that a well designed school building can actually offer. Now, you regularly present lectures on resilient, sustainable school designs.

And I live in Florida, and so it's not only really humid and really hot, but also we get hurricanes. Last fall, we were hit by Hurricane Ian, and the school that I had previously taught at, the whole roof went off and we had sustained a lot of damage. And then other schools were being used as shelters for the community. When you're looking at sustainable and resilient schools, how is it that you can design a school so that they can be used to protect the community's investment in their educational resources?

Mary Ruppenthal

That's a great topic. Great question, Dr. Hassler, designing our schools so that they can safely house students in the event of a disaster, like a hurricane or a tornado or a seismic event. I've come across being an architect in California because there's a lot of rigorous standards and testing requirements, references to meeting Dade County criteria, which is your hurricane. So there's like some interesting crossover in terms of just the level of rigor. I haven't designed a school for earthquake safety, but I imagine shuttering the exterior and providing solid cores areas for students to gather safely, like in a tornado, would be really important here.

California, we have seismic events that we're designing all of our schools to that kind of higher level of seismic resilience. Number one, house the students safely during the event, and then also, let's say, in a catastrophic event like some of the fires that we've had here, or in a hurricane event, where schools often are essential services, buildings that are where community members want to gather. So we are looking at community relief centers that are being constructed. But schools are often seen as those ideal facilities that the community could gather. They have big multipurpose rooms and gyms.

So even if they don't have a gym program that has a locker room, oftentimes we're trying to advocate for at least providing some kind of showering facilities in the event that community support needs to be happening at the school. And then certainly during fire season last couple of years, an ideal indoor air environment fuses a lot of outdoor circulated air as like a healthy way to recirculating economized outside air. Basically it's an economizer. But during fire seasons, that's the last thing people wanted. And you want to seal the building, you don't want any outside error. So one of the unfortunate benefits of COVID is that a lot of these districts were already housed with a lot of ventilation, standalone ventilators that were being used for COVID just to increase building ventilation.

So during fire seasons, those have been really useful to be employed so that they're not sending students home where it's not any better environment than being in school. And so you don't disrupt a school day while these things are happening, when you can remain opened and serve the student population in a beneficial way. And then planning for future resilience is just like, how can we design sustainably to help mitigate some of the environmental impacts that we're having? We understand as architects that built environment is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. So our responsibility and my firm, H-E-D to design sustainably, to conserve energy, to provide decarbonization.

All of us kind of have a role in saying, what can we do to make things better? We're not going to turn it around overnight, but we're really focused on sustainable buildings and our role in providing sustainable, resilient buildings.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

What about do you guys ever do like those green roofs or how they have the roof gardens, rooftop gardens and stuff?

Mary Ruppenthal

We have done a number of those, yes. And we have a number of net zero projects. We have quite a few in West Berkeley. We were the first library in the state to be a net zero library. So it's exciting. I. Mean, it's being really proactive about what we can do to provide greater resilience in the future.

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah. My son worked for Facebook, so he was on the campus in San Francisco. We went and visited him a couple of years ago. And they had all these green spaces on their roofs, right, these rooftop gardens. And so at one point we were like down on the little main street area and there is this I don't know if it was a sign, and it said like, watch out for foxes or something. And so he just kind of like, oh, there's going to be foxes here. And he's like, I don't even know why they put that there.

No one's ever seen a fox. And so here we are. We go up to one of the rooftop gardens and sure enough, there's a fox. And he goes running across and he was like, oh my gosh, it's real. The signs are real. How did it get all the way up here? But it did, and there are trees up there and there are beautiful shrubs and flowers and paths and it was big. It was not just like a I planted some sod, you know what I mean? It looked like a garden. It was beautiful space and a lot of shade. And there were fox up there. Well, wonderful. Before we wrap up, I just wanted to touch base a little bit about what we could leave with teachers. So some advice for teachers you're talking about.

Frank Lloyd Wright and I had gone to a Montessori school and to me they seemed very similar only because of bringing the outdoors in. The use of the furniture and the manipulatives were made with wood, so natural resources and the lighting was done very intentional to have a lot of natural lighting that was coming into the Montessori environment. And the spaces were really centered on the size of the furniture, the space for them to be able to work, the places for the teachers to be able to store things. And everything was very intentionally placed. And it was a beautiful place to learn.

It was a beautiful place to teach. There were like outdoor spaces with gardens. We had a picnic bench with a roof over it so children were able to be outdoors. And so that whole bringing the outdoors and integrating it into their everyday really impacted, I think, not only their learning, but wanting to stay in that space. It felt good to be there. And Frank Lloyd Wright kind of did the same things where it was like bringing those natural pieces in, whereas maybe slate on the floor, wood and the furniture was designed to integrate in those spaces and the windows with what were your views going to look like?

And are you going to see the trees and privacy yet? Feeling like you are connected to the outdoors. Left the Montessori classroom and I brought a lot of the manipulatives and the way that I designed the space with intentionality to beautiful artwork on the walls and not just a lot of posters that would be maybe distracting. And thinking about how I would organize the materials so that they were easily accessible yet aesthetically pleasing. And the flexibility of spaces, students that would need to stand, students that like to lay down on the ground. So flexibility in that space.

A lot of teachers have not been in a Montessori classroom, so they haven't had that exposure. So what would you recommend teachers be thinking about when they're returning to the classroom? What can they do to help maximize student outcomes with their environment changes?

Mary Ruppenthal

Exactly what you described, Dr. Hassler, is that focus on creating a pleasant, warm and flexible environment that really allows for comfort and adaptability exactly as you were sharing different types of if a student wants to sit on one type of seating, I think hopefully there's flexible furniture. I think sometimes there's funding limitations. But even in a funding challenged district, just the idea of being cognizant of the fact that students really thrive in environments where the teacher has put a lot of thought into the space and almost that awareness that it is a second home for the teacher as well as the student.

So at Oakland Unified School District, students in this environmental design program reached out to me because of my kind of specialty in what I do. And I was involved with their Capstone project, which was really understanding faces that help students thrive. And their challenge was very old 1970s and 60s classroom buildings that didn't have a lot of windows, that were spaces, that were like really harsh spaces. And some of the classrooms are just like awful spaces. But there was no architectural project that I was doing. It was just I was kind of mentoring them and really also learning from them.

I'm a lifelong learner, too, and just seeing them kind of go through their own analysis of classrooms, because there was one in particular that it sounds like the teacher, Dr hasler had a very similar mindset to you that really put a lot of thought into curating the environment and what is going to even if the lighting was like really bad for us and all the classrooms were the same. But this one classroom, this teacher had transformed in such a way that even though the lighting is horrible, there's no windows. And it was beautiful. I mean, it was like she had brought in some lamps to create some ambient lighting and create space through different types of lighting in a classroom.

And that's what she had done, as well as bringing biophilia in. There were a lot of plans, just really a lot of aspirational, not a ton of stuff all over the walls, but really focused, not a lot of clutter. And the students loved it there. They'd love to be in that classroom and they were studying also outcomes from classrooms, too. And so the metrics were there, too, to say people don't even want to show up for class. They don't want to go there. In this other room, the attendance is really high. And what kind of space do you want to be in?

What kind of space is going to support your students? What is going to create inclusion and feel warm and pleasant and allow for some flexibility?

Dr. Lisa Hassler

Yeah, I definitely want to be thinking about if I have to spend all day here, I want to make it pleasant and inviting for myself as well as my students. And then we all want to hang out and stay, I guess, right? So we're all going to have a better experience. All right, well, thank you, Mary, for joining me today to discuss how innovative schools can enhance the educational experience, maximize efficiency, and help shape the future for students of all ages. To learn more about Mary Ruppenthal and HED, you can go to WW dot. HED. Design the call to action is to change the limiting view.

We hold on to our classrooms and investigate how schools can reimagine their spaces to be better suited for the future of student learning. If you have a story about what's working in your schools that you'd like to share, you can email me at or visit my website at and send me a message. If you like this podcast, subscribe and tell a friend. The more people that know, the bigger impact it will have. If you find value to the content in this podcast, consider becoming a supporter by clicking on the supporter link in the show notes.

It is the mission of this podcast to shine light on the good in education so that it spreads affecting positive change. So let's keep working together to find solutions that focus on our children's success.

School Design on Student Performance Research
Mary Ruppenthal Introduction
School Design Evolution
Three Growing Trends in School Design: untethered, spontaneous, and technical
Biophilic Design for Mental Health
School-Based Health Centers
Making Schools Safer
Resilient, Sustainable School Design
Green Roof Tops
Classroom Design Advice for Teachers
Call to Action