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We are often building and creating spaces for an audience we rarely interact with. Even scarier, we are often building based on our own experiences, some of which we had 10, 20, or dare I say 40 years ago. A few things have changed a wee bit since then. So, how relevant are our experiences? The voices of the students in school right now, and of the educators, are right there, ready to be heard. All we have to do is ask, listen, and act.

A4LE’s mission is to enhance the educational experience. Speaking as a member of A4LE, our mission is brought to life through the SchoolsNEXT student design competition. This middle school competition is the heart of the organization, a living reminder of why we do the work we do – it’s where we put students at the center of the conversation, where we integrate them into the design process. Where we share knowledge with them and learn just as much from them, if not more, about what they think. What they feel. And what they need from their learning environments. 


Better buildings, dynamic futures.
Build what’s next. Together.

By bringing the planning and design community closer to the true end user – the students – they were able to share tools and thinking strategies to create better, more impactful buildings that will build a dynamic future. The SchoolsNEXT design competition raises awareness to careers within planning and design fields, including interior design, architecture, engineering, and project management, while connecting practicing professionals to young adults to give back to our communities and inspire the future of our field.


Award of Distinction 2019 – Lakeview Middle School, Kansas City, KS


This design competition mimics the design charrettes and interview process we go through in our own adult work, where we’re ultimately competing against our peers: all with the intended goal of creating student-centered spaces that support holistic wellness, and provide teachable moments from the building to support the overall learning experience. This competition provides the tools to inspire critical thinking and creative approaches to the future design of our schools through the lens of those who are using the space, day-in and day-out. Who knows the spaces we build better than the students? 

“Being able to create and enjoy building a 3D model made me learn how much fun and inventive architecture is.” – SchoolsNEXT participant



Student projects and models range in what they “look like” based on what resources they have available, and who their mentor is. That’s the sweet spot of this program – it’s about being accessible to all student groups to ensure everyone has the opportunity to experience designing the next school. Ideas and creativity come from a child’s brain, not their access to a 3D printer or fancy software.

There are many ways to get involved, through SchoolsNEXT, another organization or competition of your choosing, or simply asking a student their thoughts on the space in which they learn. If you’re interested in learning more about how your school can participate or to become a mentor for a team yourself, visit the A4LE website or reach out to me directly!

“I learned how to build a school. We used creativity in pretty much everything in this project, especially the unique aspects of our school. And we all collaborated a lot by having different roles to play and different tasks to complete to combine them all together for a final result.” – Andrew, SchoolsNEXT participant

Michelle Carpenter, A4LE SchoolsNEXT Southeast Chair, National Co-Chair.

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