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The Oak Park Unified School District serves nearly 5,000 students and is the first Green Ribbon school district in California. When they had the opportunity to revamp their middle school learning environments, they took a more unusual approach to meet their environmental and sustainability goals: truly planning long-term and holistically. The planning of the project began before the Covid-19 pandemic, but they continued with construction with the aim of being ready for a safe return to school in the next few weeks.

Natural Pod started a great partnership with Oak Park when they came to us to discuss the next phase of their renovation plan; their middle school campus, Medea Creek. They wished to fully meet their environmental goals by outfitting their recycled, sustainable shipping containers with our sustainable furniture. Learning from their previous high school renovation project which also involved shipping containers, they recognized that the environmental values and commitments that we both share made for a great collaborative partnership going forward.

As we learned more and more about the holistic purpose of this whole project we were deeply inspired by their vision. We hope by sharing this innovative project with you it will offer some inspiration for what is possible, and how with clear objectives and a creative, collaborative mindset great things can be achieved.

“Through our collaboration with Natural Pod, we’ve created flexible classrooms that further enhance the inside-outside learning encouraged by the construction of the shipping containers. By working alongside the design team all the stakeholders involved including the educators and students could visualize how the adaptable nature of the furniture would work to keep students at the center of their learning and gave our teachers a lot of confidence knowing what the furniture was going to look like in these new spaces.” – Brendan Callahan, Director of Bond Programs, Sustainability, Maintenance, and Operations at Oak Park Unified School District

The project comprises of six new middle school classrooms being developed from repurposed shipping containers which otherwise would have become redundant. The nature of the containers embraces sustainability into the design, supporting the schools’ objective of being a green school system – not only through the sustainability of materials but in the way they can be positioned around a central courtyard to create community and become part of the landscape and physical environment. Each container has been constructed to have wide sliding doors rather than fixed walls so teaching and learning can happen both in and outside. This continuity of in and out learning supports their teaching, curriculum and equity goals as well.

To fulfil their long term energy sustainability objectives, the classrooms will benefit from as much natural light as possible, and for energy they are serviced by large solar panels. Outside, landscaped trees and shrubs will provide shade and shelter, supported by a drip irrigation system, allowing the greenery to thrive while using minimum water.

“It’s really important that as we make long-term investments in the community that we want the things we purchase to be long-lasting. The buildings themselves are going to last longer than most of us will be alive, so we want the things inside of it to also last that long. We don’t want to build this wonderful, long-lasting school and then fill it with plastic furniture that we have to replace every three years.. That wouldn’t help us reach our sustainability goals. Furnishing our classrooms has to reflect our values and desires to spend wisely and has to work with the instructional program.” – Jay Greenlinger, Ed.D., Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Oak Park Unified School District

A key part of why this project is so interesting is how its design, though developed before the pandemic started, lends itself and offers benefits that address the present situation and a safe return to school. The largest part of that is the ability for classroom learning to take place outside, with a very intentional commitment to create both indoor and outdoor teaching and learning spaces – which of course the California weather supports. The leadership team understood from the outset that this would hugely benefit students as they have greater ownership over their space and are more deeply inspired by it, leading to greater engagement with their learning and resulting in better long term learning outcomes.

The following video discussion between Bridgitte Alomes, CEO and founder of Natural Pod, Kelly Rosensweet, Natural Pod Account Manager, and the leadership team from the Oak Park project, Jay Greenlinger and Brendan Callahan, explains how the project came about, what their overarching sustainability and learning goals are, and how the end result will impact students and educators.

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