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Village Tech Charter School: Designing Education

Village Tech Charter School’s motto, “Assembling Awesomeness,” provides the basis for the school’s philosophy not only as a center for learning, but also as an architecture client. Village Tech, located just outside Dallas in Cedar Hill, is an open enrollment Pre-K through 8th grade institution that first opened its doors in Fall 2013. Village Tech plans to add a grade each year until enrollment reaches the twelfth grade. Wight & Company, in association with Peter Brown Architects and RAD design,  is assisting Village Tech throughout both Phase I – a temporary facility, and Phase II – a permanent structure that will be built in two to three years.

Village Tech is a particularly exciting client for Wight & Company because of the school’s incredibly passionate leaders and their innovative education methods. Village Tech teachers take a project-based learning approach to education and view every experience as an opportunity to evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and to investigate ways to enhance the educational design the next time. Their approach is based on the following principles:

  • Integrity and empathy are at the heart of design.
  • Teachers design meaningful work.
  • All students have something to contribute.
  • Subjects, skills, and the world are integrated.
  • Genuine relationships between adults and students are built.

A key element of the learning process at Village Tech is critique, and it is encouraged in both students and teachers. When designing a building or planning an entire campus, architects create numerous iterations of the design, and critique each one until the final and optimal solution is reached. Similarly, students at Village Tech are consistently encouraged to critique one another’s work – and their teachers’ – based on the belief that the best ideas stem from other great ideas.

Village Tech also uses a concept called, “The Forge”, where students gather in teams and solve challenges and create solutions that have been developed by both their teachers and even community members. Recently, the Board Chairman was inspired by the Plastiki (a 60 ft. catamaran made out of 12,500 plastic bottles) at the Texas State Fair. The Chairman’s Challenge for students was to design the Plastiki II.

“Through the design process, students are encouraged to explore as many options as possible through brainstorming and research,” explains Village Tech Director, David Williams, on the Village Tech blog . “From here, they experiment with different solutions before creating their final product. All of this takes place in a team setting where individuals contribute their strengths while learning from the strengths of others.”

The Forge is powered by STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) and integrated across all ages, from kindergarteners to 8th graders. Students are able to fail and gain critique in the safe environment of The Forge. Projects include boat design, function boxes to teach algebraic equations, and even furniture design.

By Rick Dewar, AIA