Big Picture High School’s Innovative Learning Spaces: From Office Space to Classroom
- September 6, 2023
- Sean Downey
Big Picture Learning activates learning opportunities through its community of more than 275 global schools and a suite of initiatives. Through its multiple fellowships; outside-of-school learning opportunities; and healthy living and learning partnerships, the organization also serves as an “incubator” for the next great ideas in education.
Open since 2009, Durango Big Picture High School follows the broader Big Picture Learning model, which is centered on individual student growth through community-based internships and student-centered curriculum. A public, four-year Colorado Department of Education-accredited institution, Durango Big Picture High School serves about 100 students and boasts a student-teacher ratio of no more than 19 students to one advisor.
An alternative education campus where about 97% of the student body is categorized as “at risk” by the state of Colorado, Durango Big Picture High School wanted a high school innovative learning space that was closer to town and that was easily accessible for students. Knowing that it could use traditional office space to its advantage, the school moved into an office building, made it over and turned it into its new campus for the current 2023-24 school year.
“We thought the office space would work well with our learning model. These smaller, cool workspaces are actually really supportive of a more independent and personalized learning approach,” said Principal Samantha Tower, who worked closely with MiEN to create a vision for the new campus, which includes a mix of advisory spaces and breakout, independent workrooms. “We were able to dream big on this one; it was a really fun experience.”
With the support of school superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser—herself a big proponent of MiEN and its services—Tower and her team set out on a “fast and furious” pace. The school had sold its former building about two years prior, so it knew that a move was in its near future plans.
“We found this space a little bit late in the game,” said Tower. “Finding something in town that had the space that could accommodate 100 high school students wasn’t an easy feat.”
Perseverance paid off for the school, which found available office space that included a high school innovative learning space; a first-floor area for counseling services, studios, and administrative offices; and a large upstairs space for a multipurpose room and small/medium-sized breakout spaces.
According to Tower, MiEN helped assuage some of the school’s fears about moving into what was once office space. “There was some anxiety in thinking about transitioning to something so different,” she said. “The beauty of working with MiEN is they’ve made our new space come to life. Walking in here now, it feels so much bigger and usable than we ever anticipated.”
MiEN worked with the high school to ensure that it capitalized on every space in the new building. It also took the school’s feedback and ideas and “just ran with them,” said Tower. “They made it far easier than I ever anticipated it would be, mainly because the MiEN team came in and took some information and transformed it into a beautiful setting.”
Tower and her team picked furniture fabrics that aligned with the school’s colors and took other steps to ensure a cohesive, comfortable environment for students and staff. All of the furniture is modular and flexible. “We can turn any space into what we need it to be in 15 seconds flat,” said Tower, whose favorite pieces of furniture are the moveable, comfortable chairs that spin and that feature the school’s colors: green, black, and white.
The time factor also applied to the broader project, which came together on a fairly short timeline. “I was beyond impressed with just the pace that MiEN was able to support us with, because we didn’t have a lot of time to get this done,” said Tower. “Within six months, the process was kicked off, planned and everything was in place.”
To other schools that are moving into new campuses—academic by nature, or otherwise—Tower said working with a partner like MiEN opens up new doors while also enabling a smoother, more successful project overall. “Having access to a group of people that has experience working in education buildings and all the cool furniture options that exist was invaluable,” said Tower.
Having the support of district leadership is equally as important according to Tower, who is grateful to Dr. Cheser and her team for the support and encouragement along the way in creating a brand new high school innovative learning space. “Having a strong administrative team on our side and bringing in companies like MiEN really went a long way in bringing this project to fruition,” said Tower. “We can’t wait for the kids to get back to school this year and see how it all turned out.”