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Although the majority of my working time is as chief strategy officer at Natural Pod, I thoroughly enjoy wearing other hats within education as well; I sit on the board of Green Schools National Network and I’m also the national co-chair and southeast chair of SchoolsNEXT. It was this latter position that primarily took me to LearningSCAPES in October 2021 with my co-worker, Kelly Rosensweet, one of our solutions partners for Natural Pod.

My session ‘Student Voice Informs Equitable Learning Space Design’ was held on the main stage in a breakout session co-hosted with SchoolsNEXT participating students, and included interactive opportunities for the attendees. The content was all the richer for hearing directly from the young people involved in SchoolsNEXT and their contribution within design conversations. They provided unique insight into how they experience the spaces created for them, supplying invaluable information for designers and architects going forward. Having students involved in this way really underlined the importance of including student voice throughout the design process.


How you can get involved in the 2022 SchoolsNEXT Competition
If you’re an educator looking for a guide to get students involved in thinking critically about the learning environments they learn within, SchoolsNEXT offers a framework to incorporate into your learning opportunities. If you’re in the education field looking to get involved and give back to the student, design, and sustainability community, this is a great mentorship opportunity!

2022 A4LE SchoolsNEXT Competition
Challenged to plan and design sustainable and resilient learning spaces that encourage innovation, critical thinking and collaboration, these young designers have broadened the potential of a school by connecting excellence in design with excellence in education. Their rigorous research, exceptional teamwork and eco-friendly solutions not only meet the needs of students, but address the economy and society of the future, enabling them to master the skills they need to take on the challenges of a world defined by change.

The Competition is open to middle & high school students and the project can be a single space or a full school. The aim is to challenge student teams across the globe to design tomorrow’s sustainable school facilities. These schools should enhance learning, conserve resources, be environmentally responsive and engage the surrounding community.

The focus of the SchoolsNEXT competition is:
• Develop And Implement The Planning Process
• Enhance The Learning Environment
• Physical Environment Attributes
• Engage Your Local Community

Main Key Takeaways from LearningSCAPES:

  • Schools are really being seen as the HUB of a community and are starting to be built through that lens with the services they provide their community in mind: a place to learn, a place to provide child care and health resources, and as spaces to gather and connect with one’s community.
  • Social emotional health/trauma informed design were also big themes of the conference. There was a lot of focus on building spaces that provide the resources and spaces young people need to be able to be successful in their learning outcomes, this area will be a major trend in new K-12 learning space design.

Other outcomes from the conference:

Lord Nelson Elementary in Vancouver BC, a newly built school Natural Pod had the pleasure of fitting out was a James D. MacConnell Award Finalist. We will showcase this fantastic school designed by McFarland Marceau Architects and all its student focused elements in next week’s newsletter, so look out for that.

It was another fantastic conference this year, and it felt so good to connect with our community in-person once again. A big thank you to everyone I met or learned from; it was incredibly inspiring to hear so many creative approaches around the challenges and opportunities being faced in education at this time. – Michelle Carpenter

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