In collaboration with the Fulton County School System, design firm Cooper Carry recently completed a 17-week course teaching Connective Design curriculum for fourth- and fifth-grade students at Alpharetta Elementary School.
Led by Megan Fagge, a senior associate with Cooper Carry’s K-12 Education studio who is both a licensed architect and certified teacher, the program introduced students to the connective design process, from initial planning stages and ideation to rendering creation and presentation.
The program culminated last spring when students presented solutions for a design challenge affecting their peers with special needs. Heading into the new school year, the students hope to find ways to implement their ideas through community partnerships or a student council initiative.
As part of the class, the students selected an outdoor dining area at the school as the project site and developed ideas to re-imagine the space into a more accommodating playscape for students with special needs. Recommendations included a nature trail, sensory environments, equal-access play areas and improved landscaping.
A board member from the Fulton County Board of Education closely followed the students’ work and is proud of their recommendations.
“When we connect our classrooms with the outside world, the experience is richer for our students,” Katie Reeves, whose district represents Alpharetta Elementary School, said. “This project took a real-world problem and led our students through a thought-provoking process that challenged the way they think and see things. It also evoked their empathy for classmates who may not be able to enjoy all aspects of outdoor play.”
Design prompts, including an exercise from The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, encouraged students to take on a human-centered point of view so they could think critically about the best avenues that would lead to meaningful change for their peers. Using a combination of observational and investigative skills, the students each created their own plan to update the playground for better accessibility.
“It was a delight to work with an imaginative group of students who were intent on transforming a central part of their school into a space that everyone could enjoy,” Fagge said. “Watching them explore the boundaries of their own agency and create actionable change was truly remarkable. This class reinforced the idea that children are agents of innovation who are uniquely equipped to tackle challenges that often require an enterprising approach to problem-solving.”
In addition to the program, Cooper Carry is also working closely with Fulton County Schools on the development of two unique STEM schools, one of which is Innovation Academy in Alpharetta, which is slated to open in August 2021 and will offer focused classes in Information Technology, Engineering and Health Sciences for 1,500 students.
Led by architects Bob Just and Nate Williamson of Cooper Carry, the specialized high school will aim to provide a modern student experience, prioritizing communal studying spaces where students will eat, collaborate and socialize throughout the day. Alpharetta Elementary School is located about a mile away from the Innovation Academy site.