In this age of accountability for teachers and testing achievement for students, it makes sense that school buildings should also meet 21st-century standards. However, many of the United States’ 120,000 schools are in disrepair or otherwise unsuited for today’s tech-savvy teaching. For the past two years, a program called Great Schools by Design, which is administered by the American Architectural Foundation and sponsored by the department store company Target, has been trying to change that. Working with 60 school districts, including some in the hurricane-ravaged areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the program matches school leaders with architectural innovation. This year the AAF/Target team has added a new program to its repertoire: the Redesign My School contest.
The competition, which began March 1 and is open to participants until the end of June, puts school redesign in the hands of students in grades 9 through 12. The winner of the contest will receive a $10,000 college scholarship, seven finalists will receive $5,000 scholarships, and 20 semi-finalists will receive Target gift cards.
“We wanted to get students involved in a creative way,” says Ron Bogle, Hon. AIA, president and CEO of the AAF. “The purpose of the contest is to help elevate the national discussion about schools and raise awareness. And we want to hear from students what they’d like in a school, because students aren’t part of focus groups.” He also notes that the contest will encourage students to consider architecture as a career.
Partnering with Target has allowed the AAF to reach a broad audience, and within the first week of the redesignyourschool.org Web site going live, 2,500 students had registered for the contest.
Laysha Ward, vice president of community relations for Target explains that this contest is another extension of Target’s mission to democratize good design. “This program brought together two of our major philanthropic areas: education and design. It supports our commitment to having children be prepared for success and of making design available to all,” she says.
Fifty other organizations and institutions, such as the AIA and the National School Boards Association, have also offered to promote the program. This is the largest contest of its kind (although similar contests have been held in Britain and Australia) and as Ward notes it’s the only one to “to lend a voice to all the school stakeholders—teachers, parents, civic holder, and even corporate leaders.”
While the contest ends this summer, the AAF will study the entries afterward to develop an analysis of the students’ ideas.