In Oklahoma City, A School Designed For Homeless Children

Positive Tomorrows's new building to house its school that serves homeless children.
The design for Positive Tomorrows’s new constructing to deal with its faculty that serves homeless kids in Oklahoma City. MA+ Architecture

Positive Tomorrows’s new constructing will meet the distinctive wants of homeless college students. Main request by youngsters with out properties for playdates: a spot to take a seat with mates.

How do you incorporate the precise wants of homeless kids into the design of a faculty? That’s the query the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit group Positive Tomorrows requested itself when it was daydreaming a few new constructing that would meet the various wants of its college students. Positive Tomorrows has been educating homeless youngsters and offering social companies to households since 1989.

“There isn’t any mannequin for the sort of faculty,” stated Gary Armbruster, principal architect and companion at MA+ Architecture, which got here on the scene in 2013 to assist kickstart the design course of for the brand new faculty.

Working with workers and college students of Positive Tomorrows, his group got here up with a design that may handle the challenges homeless college students face each day whereas discovering methods to duplicate the experiences of youngsters who don’t endure from homelessness. The new constructing, which is able to ultimately serve kids from infants to eighth-grade college students, is about to open in September 2019. With a goal of 210 college students at full capability, it’ll virtually triple the capability of the present facility, which may solely serve about 74 kids. Through its new construction, Positive Tomorrows hopes to offer a normal on the right way to construct a faculty for homeless kids.

“This is a faculty the place we have to discuss to the scholars,” stated Armbruster. “Because in lots of instances, it’s their dwelling away from dwelling, a spot the place they really feel safe and might have some consistency of their lives.” One of essentially the most worthwhile, if easy, approaches that they took was to attempt to incorporate a homey really feel. “Every room is themed with a house in thoughts,” stated Armbruster.

The facility was designed partly by the youngsters, who participated in a “dream huge” train, the place they submitted drawings and different concepts of what they’d wish to see within the new constructing. One pupil drew a flooring plan that’s redolent of the present structure, with the lunchroom and the library within the middle and every little thing else constructing out round it. The kids needed a treehouse, so the design features a stylized indoor treehouse that serves as a collaboration house for college students to socialize.

Clayton’s Clubhouse (named after the late son of a pair who volunteered with and donated to Positive Tomorrows) is one other comfy space, with a small lending library the place youngsters can chill, learn a e-book, and even take one to maintain. As homeless kids typically don’t have a spot to host playdates, many of those areas meet college students’ requests for “a spot to take a seat with mates.”

A pupil sketch of the college he needed to see. (Courtesy Positive Tomorrows)

The architects additionally included a spread of group-learning areas each inside and out of doors as areas the place youngsters can meet with different college students or with their mentors to learn, play video games, or do schoolwork. Having areas to fulfill with one another and reinforce social abilities is essential, as a result of most of the kids are behind developmentally and behaviorally when it pertains to cooperation and group play. Key to creating the kids really feel that they’ll personal the areas they’re in is having versatile, moveable, and sturdy furnishings.

“Our kiddos don’t have anything that’s their very own,” stated Amy Brewer, Director of Education at Positive Tomorrows. “’If I wish to do a Lego mission, I can’t depart it out as a result of the place I keep tonight will not be the place I keep tomorrow.’ Sometimes they’re similar to turtles of their shells after they want only a second,” Brewer continued. The new constructing will carry an enhanced cubby system, each completely child-sized with a bench the place the youngsters can loosen up surrounded by their issues. “The cubbies are the one factor they’ve that’s theirs,” stated Armbruster. “No one is gonna contact it; nobody is gonna transfer it.”

The household room serves as each a standard room and a cafeteria, and it’s the guts of the college and the primary focus upon getting into the constructing. It extends out to the yard, the place the youngsters can play on the playground and study in outside lecture rooms. Other areas, such because the residing rooms and the back and front porches, are named to permit the scholars to grasp what these phrases imply. “This seems like such a easy idea that everybody ought to perceive, however should you haven’t grown up with these beliefs, then you definitely simply don’t perceive them,” stated Armbruster.

In 2017, the Oklahoma City Public School District had 5,031 homeless kids enrolled. But Brewer believes the variety of homeless kids in Oklahoma City is nearer to 10,000, resulting from lack of self-identification and “sofa homelessness,” which is tougher to measure. These are college students who sleep in a distinct place almost each evening, be it a settee, a storage, or on the ground of a relative or good friend.

Students at school at Positive Tomorrows’s present facility. (Rachel Durham/Positive Tomorrows)

Positive Tomorrows was initially a part of town’s public faculty district, however the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Act meant that public faculty programs may not segregate college students based mostly on their homeless standing and this system morphed right into a nonprofit, tuition-free non-public faculty. Positive Tomorrows believes that their kids and households have specific wants and require a faculty that may present that.

“Our households are in full survivor mode,” stated Brewer. “Schooling is an afterthought at finest. For a lot of our children, in the event that they weren’t at Positive Tomorrows, they might not be at college. Positive Tomorrows is ready to present a household with an array of assist companies {that a} conventional public faculty can’t.”

Government assist for the college is minimal; final fiscal yr, Positive Tomorrows obtained a $61,339 reimbursement from the federal faculty lunch program, stated Brewer, in addition to $2,194.08 for Title II funding by way of the Oklahoma City Public School District that helps skilled growth for academics. Fundraising for the brand new constructing started in 2017. The faculty obtained $5 million in New Market Tax Credits and was in a position to increase greater than $10 million from the group in lower than a yr.

The largest donor gave $2 million with a imaginative and prescient that the college be constructed alongside ReMerge, a program that helps pregnant ladies and moms going through incarceration, offering an alternative choice to incarceration in jail. Many of the kids at Positive Tomorrows have moms in this system, and ReMerge can also be constructing a brand new facility. The two buildings will share a courtyard the place the mothers and children can spend time collectively in the course of the day.

The facade, with an abundance of glass, gives each gentle and clear visuals of individuals approaching. (MA+ Architecture)

Since caring for the households of the scholars is an important mission of the college, the administration space has been designed at double the dimensions that it is perhaps in a conventional faculty, to accommodate the household assist workplaces and cater to case administration, housing placement, and different social companies.

Homeless kids usually come into faculty feeling drained and stressed, so there might be house to nap within the nurse’s workplace, and the early Head Start and Head Start rooms might be outfitted with cots and cribs. In addition, every classroom has a “landing house,” a linked however non-public room the place one or a bunch of scholars can relaxation. The kitchen, the place the youngsters are equipped with free faculty lunches, is off the household room alongside the meals lab, a residential kitchen the place dad and mom and children can study to prepare dinner and have “home made” meals as a household. It additionally has a built-in clothes closet with every little thing from coats to sneakers to toiletries; no matter a baby may must get by way of the college day and a laundry room.

During the “dream huge” train, one of many college students drew a button in his classroom that learn, “Alarm for the police.” “So this little one needed to have the ability to name the police instantly, and that possibly says loads concerning the life that he lives each day,” stated Armbruster.

It wasn’t solely the scholars: Safety and safety was on the prime of workers’s checklist of wants, as effectively. “One of the shelters we serve is a home violence shelter, so now we have youngsters actively hiding from abusers,” stated Brewer. The structure of the constructing reinforces security: Its facade is product of glass, which each allows considerable pure gentle and provides these within the administration workplaces a full view of anybody approaching. There is one level of entry for the whole constructing, and everybody has to enter by way of a two-step safe entry vestibule earlier than checking in, signing in, and getting a badge.

“This is a spot the place they know they’re secure,” Armbruster stated concerning the design. “A place the place they are going to study and never be judged for the way they give the impression of being, what they put on, the place they stay or who they’re. Here, they’re all youngsters.”

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