40 years after its opening as a cutting-edge high school in 1973, the exterior of Chartiers Valley Middle School and public spaces appeared to be in fair condition, but a failing infrastructure lay beneath the surface. The heating and cooling system, electrical system, plumbing and roofs were all in need of serious attention. In 2013, a facility assessment study determined that the school required significant upgrades to remain a safe and operable facility.
While the conditions of the facility drove Chartiers Valley to confront physical issues, it also presented an opportunity for the district to question what they did and how they did it: ensure the personal success of its students. After interrogation and analysis of the district’s curriculum and programs, the district determined that it needed a very different kind of learning environment. Chartiers Valley School District needed a Middle School that would provide a flexible and agile learning space that establishes a healthy environment, uses space to impact learning, and sparks inspiration for students to believe in themselves. They needed to transform their school from a “cells and bells” model into a truly learner-focused environment that gives students the confidence to tackle the unprecedented challenges ahead of them.
The new middle school is the outcome of an inclusive visioning and planning process that meaningfully engaged a wide spectrum of stakeholder groups, including district leaders, middle school staff, middle school students, and community members. These stakeholders were assembled into a group called the School Design Advisory Team (SDAT) that crafted the vision for the Secondary Learning Environment. Running parallel to the SDAT discovery process, monthly community outreach sessions were held to further refine and align the educational vision with community values.
Through multiple workshops, research and benchmarking tours, the SDAT determined that the best way to support the education needs of the 21st Century was to organize the academic spaces into Small Learning Communities (SLCs) proven to create a more positive school climate, increase student performance and retention, spur more meaningful relationships with adults and peers, and offer opportunities for educators to gather together to enhance teaching and learning.
Now brought to life by its students and faculty, Chartiers Valley Middle School gives educators the right tool to prepare students for the next phase of their secondary education. The design of the SLCs allow educators to embrace multi-disciplinary collaboration and create an entirely new paradigm for students. Applied engineering programs, fine arts, and family consumer sciences once located down back halls and out of the eb and flow now live in the central core of the facility. Greater transparency exposes students to the district’s unique program offerings and encourages enrollment in maker-based programs that are the cornerstone of the district’s emphasis on project-based learning.
“I came out of there learning a lot, more than I thought I would. I thought I’d learn about architecture, but I really learned how to be a better teacher.”
– Scott Crimone, CV teacher