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Q&A with our Architect

Jim Favaro, AIA, is co-founder of Johnson Favaro, the highly regarded architecture firm that CEE has partnered with to design its new campus. Jim has extensive experience planning and designing modern educational institutions and other buildings during his career.

Below, Jim answers a few questions about classroom design and how The Center’s new spaces will fit into modern designed thinking.


CEE: When most people think of a classroom they usually think of a teacher in the front of the room and students sitting in rows of desks that fill up the rest of the room but that isn't the modern view of a classroom. Can you explain how and why things have changed in recent years?

Jim Favaro, co-founder of Johnson Favaro: As CEE’s former head of school, Reveta Bowers, often said, more has changed in the last five years in early education than in the previous 35 years. Mostly these changes have centered around the growing realization that creativity, collaboration, and resilience are the qualities of good students and good citizens that will matter most in the future. In the information age of today, and perhaps the artificial intelligence age of tomorrow, those who will contribute most increasingly will be those who can transform what they know—through experimentation, sharing, failure and success—into something none of us yet knows. These innovations are less something entirely new than a matter of emphasis.

Creativity and resilience are best learned through a combination of personal experience and working with one another. Making things, or project-based learning, has turned out to be one of the best ways to teach and learn these qualities. There’s nothing new about this except relative to what has been the norm in schools in the United States in our lifetimes.Innovation in any field always relies on and builds upon the knowledge and experience of our predecessors. The innovation in early education is the perspective that, while traditionally accumulated knowledge still and will always matter, how and when that knowledge is accumulated matters just as much. We can learn for ourselves and from others at the same time and, the evidence shows, the earlier we do this in life, the better it is.

CEE: What are some of the most important elements of effective classroom design?

JF: The classroom of the future will incorporate more kinds of activities then what existed when we adults were children while still accommodating traditional forms of learning. Children sitting at desks in rows learning from a teacher at the front of the room is a scenario that will never completely disappear. The classroom of the future, however, will facilitate as many kinds of teaching and learning as we can imagine—even those we may not yet imagine. The classroom of the future will become more like the artists’ studio, the craftsman’s workshop and the scientists’ laboratory. Think of it as the blending of the classroom, music room, woodshop, homemaking, science, and art classrooms of our day. The size and shape of a classroom is important. Rectangular is usually the most flexible and ideal shape and the length and breadth of the classroom should be able to accommodate a variety of seating configurations to affords the kinds of informal, ad hoc encounters that occur every day in our dynamic, creative workplaces. When confined to a chair we are not tapping into the intelligence of our bodies—moving, making and sharing with the body in play are increasingly seen as central to the kind of dynamic learning that will be crucial for the kinds of intelligence children will need as adults. Sharing requires different seating arrangements and technologies (especially when sharing with others outside of the room.) Making requires tools—some digital, some analogous, some physical—that are at hand and ready to employ.

CEE: Can you provide some examples of how CEE taking advantage of progressive design in its Campus Enhancement Plan?

JF: Think of the Innovation Center as the prototype for the classroom of the future. It was the model for the design of all of the lower elementary classrooms in The Center’s new buildings. Every classroom will now be an innovation center—one room, a “studio” for each grade level with the ability to divide into two. Each new classroom will be outfitted with flexible furniture, lots of storage for supplies and student projects, lots of daylight from at least two sides of the room, smart boards connected to the Internet and, most importantly, lots of room to move around. The room can be brightly lit for some kinds of activities and darkened for others. Students can sit in large groups and in small groups, on the floor and in chairs. Each grade level, in addition to its studio, has a separate, adjacent breakout room for quieter, more focused individual or small group learning. All lower elementary studios and classrooms are outfitted with cubbies, fixed and moveable storage, fixed and sliding white boards, worktables and sinks.The Early Childhood classrooms center around a large protected and shaded outdoor play yard. This yard resides at the heart of the new campus sheltered by buildings on all sides. Each of the five classrooms face out onto this yard with overhead sliding doors opening one side of each room completely out to it. Daylight enters from both the north and south. One-way glass on one wall of the room will allow parents to connect to their children while allowing children also to participate fully in the activities of the day.

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