As K-12 schools head toward reopening in the fall, they face a range of unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students will have experienced trauma and significant academic setbacks as a result of lockdowns, the possible impact of illness or loss of loved ones, and the sudden transition to remote learning in the spring. Preventing the spread of the virus will require new processes and classroom configurations. This summer, a team of Master’s students from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design is working with Dezudio, a design firm led by Adjuncts of Practice Raelynn O’Leary and Ashley Deal, to support a series of planning initiatives for the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School to openly share their fall 2020 plans.
The team of design interns comprises recent graduates of the MA program, including Christi Danner, Karen Escarcha, Matt Geiger, Hannah Kim, Tessa Samuelson, and Catherine Yochum. In the first phase of work, the design team worked with the Brooklyn LAB in partnership with leading education organizations to explore how schools can best allocate resources to ensure that the needs of all learners—especially those most vulnerable and at risk—are met in the upcoming school year. Collaborators included PBDW Architects, EdTogether, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS), Public Impact, TNTP, and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.
The results of two weeks of intensive exploration—framed as a design charrette—have been published in the "Back to School Instructional Program Scheduling Map." The map is intended to help schools consider where students will learn, who will staff various types of instruction, and what types of teaching and support work best in classroom, auxiliary, and virtual contexts.
“The Scheduling Map is part of a larger effort by the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School to openly share the planning and exploration they're doing related to how they can safely re-open schools in the fall, while keeping their focus on equity and access for the most vulnerable students, including those experiencing adversity, those facing discrimination, and those who learn differently,” said O’Leary. “Those two ideas—sharing process and outcomes early, and keeping the focus on equity and access—are both what makes the project unique.”
Scheduling scenario for a fellow and both AM & PM students. (InnovateEDU)
Brooklyn LAB is also working on initiatives for necessary updates to their facilities, and into strengthening their success coaching practices to help support students who will be doing more work independently and facing a variety of complex social and emotional circumstances.
“For each of these topics, they're working through an iterative process and bringing in top practitioners to consider the constraints and propose solutions,” said Deal. “They are publishing initial versions of their planning outcomes as a way to engage their community in discussion and uncover challenges early, and to help support other schools who might be able to leverage the recommendations and thinking for their particular contexts.”
This first version of the Scheduling Map frames early directions in staff scheduling, class configurations, and planning considerations for both general education and special education. It also explores the use of innovative staffing solutions by leveraging community educators and success coaches to support social-emotional learning for students.
A classroom laid out for ideal social distancing. (PBDW)
“The challenge is unique to this moment in history, and I really appreciate Brooklyn LAB’s approach because they frame these obstacles as opportunities for growth,” said Danner. With each proposed solution is an idea of how these changes can lead to an improved educational model in the future after the pandemic is over. “With the Scheduling Map, they seek to be role models for other schools who encounter these new challenges.”
“In its current state, the Scheduling Map provides a concise summary of ideas developed to address the challenges facing school children, educators, and administrators,” added Geiger. “It is uniquely grounded in the metaphor of a transit map; much of our internal discussions revolved around the concept of ‘navigating’ a complicated matrix of policies, methods, and learning formats. We also wanted a metaphor that would be familiar to the intended audience, and because this is Brooklyn, it felt very appropriate.”
For Dezudio and the student team, the input and perspective of designers provide a crucial point of view as the world tries to navigate the coming months.
“The pandemic, I think, has made many people more aware of the ways in which we all advertently or inadvertently design our ways of life, both as individuals and systemically, and how we can be conscious of redesigning ‘normalcy’ in necessary ways going forward,” said Yochum. “Design work builds a relative comfort level with ambiguity, iteration, and receiving and incorporating feedback that can all be important when responding to change.”
“Educators and parents are also worried about the social, emotional, and intellectual development of their school children,” said Geiger. “We know that education must continue in the fall, although it will in a format that is not well understood – not yet. The good news, in all of this, is that when people are well-informed and have a clear understanding of their environment and their available choices, they are actually very good at decision making. The role of designers in this context was to present each team’s key findings and vital information with a clear and consistent visual language.”
“Communication is imperative in any context, but it is especially important in emergency situations or situations that require an urgent, organized response,” added Danner. “With all of the moving pieces that schools are currently juggling, it will be extremely important that communication among schools, families, policy makers, and other stakeholders is as clear and direct as possible.
“Designers are uniquely situated not only to develop the visual aspects of these communications, but also to help schools clarify their thinking around these issues.”
Brooklyn LAB has always embraced design principles and practices like the value of feedback and iteration, the power of clear communication, and the importance of putting the community at the center of solutions.
“Our design interns quickly embedded themselves into teams of subject matter experts, teachers, special educators, and instructional leaders to clarify and communicate their ideas on how to achieve safe, equitable, and effective instruction in the coming school year,” said O’Leary. “They played a critical role in helping their teams distill their thinking to what was most essential, clarify the ideas to make them accessible to an outside audience, and communicate process and proposed solutions clearly and consistently from team to team.”
In the coming weeks, the team will be working with Brooklyn LAB’s teachers and instructional leaders to assess the ideas put forth in V1 of the Scheduling Map, and to build V2. They will also be supporting the teams working on a “Success Coaching” exploration, and will be working to build an open-source communication framework that includes iconography, visual assets, and messaging for schools to facilitate communication among students, educators, and families to help them navigate the new journey on which they are about to embark. Learn more about these initiatives at https://www.equitybydesign.org.
All images courtesy of the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School.