What happens when students design their own school?

What happens when students design their own school?

Alison Elías María Soledad Bos 15 septiembre 2016 Comments

How do you imagine the school of your dreams? What kind of spaces does it have?  These are some of the questions that a group of architects asked students from the Aurelia Rojas school in La Pintana neighborhood of Santiago, Chile. Their answers came in the form of drawings and sketches, right before school renovations began. What do you get when the community is consulted and their needs considered before designing and renovating school spaces?

The neighborhood of La Pintana was founded 35 years ago as a shelter for displaced families from other areas of the city of Santiago. The precarious conditions in which families started to settle — such as lack of access to basic services and infrastructure — often forced them into a life in poverty. Nowadays, despite improvements in the quality of living across Chile, the 2016 Annual Plan for Education Development identified La Pintana as a high-vulnerability area. It is precisely among these difficult circumstances that the Aurelia Rojas Burgos school has managed to make a difference; slowly, the school buildings have stopped being another element of the urban landscape and have become a shelter of hope that allow children and youths to get away from their often harsh realities and enjoy a safe space in which they can learn, play, share, and dream together.

Not surprisingly, many of the drawings that architects received in response to their questions reflected the lack of playgrounds, sport areas, and environments in which students could spend time together. The challenge, however, was not small: to completely transform and expand a school with capacity for 800 students required a larger surface area than the one available. The architects’ creativity and the dialogue with students, teachers, and parents were key to materialize what students had envisioned in their sketches.

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Restrooms and service facilities were rebuilt, classrooms and workshops were distributed across two floors connected by ramps and staircases, all around a multipurpose sports area. The latter was covered with a roof that created a new level to allow for more open-air activities. The result of this transformation was inspiring: a functional and inclusive school, equipped with modern spaces that allow for different physical and social activities, and that, having been conceived with the community’s input, are more attractive and motivating for students and teachers.

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The story of the Aurelia Rojas Burgos school in Chile is one of the many that can be told from experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean. When you involve and integrate the school community in the design, planning, construction and use of school infrastructure, the diverse actors who actually use these spaces on a daily basis develop a connection: they take ownership of the spaces, they use them appropriately; this, in the long term, brings positive effects on the maintenance of facilities.

At the IDB, through the Learning in 21st Century Schools initiative, we promote dialogue among authorities in the region to exchange and identify best practices in the planning, building and maintenance of school infrastructure, but also to send the message that making communities an integral part of projects and plans is key for success.

Schools should become spaces to inspire and innovate, but always with their context and realities in mind. We invite you to discover more about this regional project by visiting our website: www.iadb.org/schoolinfrastructure and joining the conversation on Twitter by tagging @BIDEducacion and using #schoolinfrastructure.

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