Safe, Interactive Learning Environment for Special Needs School

Date: | Blog

At High Point School, part of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a major renovation provided the opportunity to reimagine learning for the school’s K-12 special needs students.

Making Learning and Creativity Accessible for All

Originally built in 1972 for a different population, High Point School serves special education students aged three through twenty-six with significant physical, intellectual, or behavioral challenges. The structure also houses the Honey Creek Community School for grades K-8, a daycare center, and the district’s school for deaf and hearing-impaired students. A school dedicated to serving students with autism is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022.

An important part of the renovation was creating safe and welcoming spaces for students that encouraged collaboration while also promoting a sense of inclusivity and belonging. In addition, the school’s diverse population necessitated specialized and adaptive solutions that could accommodate a wide range of evolving needs. TMP Interior Designer Sarah Watson says, “For the niche design, the whole project was about balance. The population using that building can be overstimulated, so it was important to choose a pattern that would be beautiful, but also calming and not overwhelming. The space also needed to be a functional area where groups can meet.”

To meet these goals, it was crucial to find a collaborative surface product that was not only functional and high performing, but also accessible.

Creating School Environments That Operate As a Small Community

The Steelcase Flow™ modular whiteboard system was the perfect solution to give students of all learning and mobility levels a safe and easy-to-access place for writing, drawing, collaboration, and imagination. The design team partnered with Steelcase to create over 200 full-wall Flow whiteboards that would support teaching and collaboration across all schools and programs.

“When envisioning this unique project, we wanted to help bring to life inviting, joy-inspiring spaces for the students that made them feel like a part of an intimate, connected community,” said Mark DeNapoli, director of Steelcase Collaborative Solutions. “At Steelcase, we pride ourselves on fostering a sense of belonging and helping people feel like they are in control of the flow of their day. We sought to deliver this same experience to the students at High Point.” Designed to promote engagement and interaction, Flow’s floor-to-ceiling surfaces provide an adaptive and easily accessible collaboration tool, which is especially important for students with learning or mobility challenges. In addition, the non-porous CeramicSteel surface is easy to clean and sanitize, reducing exposure of medically fragile students – many of whom are in wheelchairs – to bacteria and other harmful microbes. The highly durable surface is also resistant to scratches and dents, chemicals, stains, fading from UV exposure, and fire – all of which were important considerations for the school.

Braiding the Analog and Digital

Because High Point School also leverages interactive technology in their instruction, it was equally crucial that the building materials selected provide flexibility. Unlike other solutions, Flow allows technology to be mounted directly on top of it. Additionally, Flow can be cut in the field to allow for electrical and data connections to pass through to the monitor. This capability allowed the school to layer technology while also enabling instructors to access both analog and digital teaching tools – each a necessary element for engaging today’s students.

Added DeNapoli, “Through our solution, the school was able to achieve a hybrid ‘flow of neighborhood’ that weaves together analog and digital. We are proud to support this purpose-driven community through an innovative collaborative solution that promotes sharing of knowledge and learning while helping to preserve students’ health and well-being.”

Coming Full Circle

The functionality, flexibility, and minimal maintenance requirements of the boards make it easier to teach and communicate with students of all learning levels. The magnetic surface is particularly popular for mounting materials and signage to support visual learning. Installing the boards vertically offers an expanded workable surface and accommodates a broader range of accessibility and mobility needs.

Two hallway niches, which feature circular windows and comfortable seating, have become a popular gathering spot for the students. The Flow boards were cut to fit around the windows and feature cheerful line drawings of flowers that students can color or add to with their own designs. Because the custom graphics are baked into the material rather than overlaid as a film, the surface images will last for decades to come.

At High Point School, students and teachers have achieved a truly connected neighborhood – one that is safe, collaborative, and welcoming to all.

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