Would a New School Design Fix Behavior Problems?

Brittny Drye

Dunbar High SchoolHow easily can you expect children to learn when they describe their learning environment as "soul deadening"? And believe it or not, it's not even the teachers that they're speaking of. The community of Washington D.C.'s Dunbar Senior High School is currently arguing over a $100 million makeover of the vintage school and if it will solve the behavior and education issues that tend to escalate with each passing year. 

The virtually windowless, 1970s-vintage hexagon-and-high-rise school just recently received walls last year (the 1970s "open" design had certainly withstood the test of time), and large portions of the 343,000-square-foot building are empty and difficult to secure, giving the students the perfect hideout for hookups, smoking, skipping class, or whatever else their delinquent little hearts desire.

Members of the community are arguing that it's not worth the investment and that it's ridiculous to put blame on the building's design. After all, top colleges such as Harvard have been around for centuries, pushing out the education elite. And certainly, not all of their classrooms are state-of-the-art. But as someone who went to high school in a similar 1970s design, I can say from personal experience that it's absolutely worth it.

My high school had the typical wall-less "pod-style" open classrooms that were, for some reason, so popular in the early '70s. So while I was sitting in French class, I was also learning Latin (carpe diem mon ami!). I can't stress how irritating that was, both for the students and the teachers. Not to mention, the circular structure made it very difficult to have proper ventilation, meaning kids were sick -- a lot. Therefore, students had to miss school and important lessons and tests, causing their grades to sink. Similar to the D.C. school, we also didn't have windows in the building, which more than several studies have shown does have a positive impact on a child's ability to learn. And a child's ability to learn oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with their behavior.

It was horrible, and I'm happy to say that the school has since been updated (unfortunately, my graduating class had to suffer through the construction but didn't get to benefit from it). Whether or not it helps these D.C. students, only time will tell, though it will obviously take more than just a quick interior design fix -- teachers and parents need to also do their parts. But it certainly can't hurt, and if I were a parent, I'd want anything and everything to be done to make the most of my child's learning experience.

Do you think upgrading the school's design will help?


Image via DunbarDC.com

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