Echo Trail Middle School: Innovation Through Intentional Design

Echo Trail Middle School: Innovation Through Intentional Design

Echo Trail Middle School, located in Jefferson County, Kentucky, strives to inspire its students to reach their full potential through an innovative space through intentional design that provides a hands-on, collaborative learning experience. In an interview with Dr. Kara Ammerman, the principal of Echo Trail, we explored the unique aspects of this brand-new middle school that is reshaping the educational experience for 6th-8th graders.

At the heart of Echo Trail’s educational approach is a commitment to doing education differently. Echo Trail embraces its identity as a trailblazer in education, and as the school’s first principal, Dr. Ammerman is excited to set the foundation for what education can be for students. 

“If you just do a lot of little things differently, they add up to big results.” – Dr. Ammerman

In our conversation, she highlighted the school’s emphasis on hands-on experiences, creating local partnerships, and the school’s unique instructional philosophy. Echo Trail is an Explore school, offering pathways in Consumer Science, Business and Communications, and Engineering and Design. In addition to these specialized pathways, the school also provides a rich array of arts, music, drama, clubs, and athletics to ensure a holistic education.

Cultivating A Transformative Educational Experience

This year, Echo Trail began its journey with 6th graders, setting the foundation for a transformative educational experience for years to come. The three buildings that make up Echo Trail will eventually cater to students in each middle school grade. 

The school’s dedication to innovation through intentional design extends to its learning spaces, which were designed using MiEN Company furnishings. Contrary to traditional classroom design with singular desks, Echo Trail’s classrooms utilize a variety of furniture designs that foster collaboration and creativity. The diverse furniture options challenge both students and teachers to think outside the box, promoting a dynamic and engaging educational experience.

With learning spaces designed with flexibility and collaboration in mind, the environment at Echo Trail has a transformative impact on students. Dr. Ammerman has noticed that students experience a sense of space and comfort unlike anything they’ve encountered in traditional educational settings. 

The intentional design of each learning space sparks enthusiasm among students, fostering a connection to places they’ve seen on TV or experienced in their lives. Students not only feel a sense of ownership over the space but also experience a level of independence that promotes the active learning environment Echo Trail is working to achieve. The innovative seating arrangements create a unique and personalized atmosphere that enhances the overall learning experience for students and teachers alike.

Echo Trail Middle School Classrooms
Echo Trail Middle School Classrooms

Intentional Design For Career-Focused Learning Spaces

All middle schools within Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) utilize the Explore Pathways approach to student learning. Through this instructional strategy, every student proceeds through middle school along a different career-focused pathway, selecting Consumer Science, Business and Communications, or Engineering and Design as their emphasis. 

The Explore Pathways at Echo Trail and partnership with MiEN are consistent across JCPS middle schools. Dr. Ammerman feels that MiEN has shown a strong commitment to this partnership, really taking the time to design furnishings that meet the needs of each pathway. She noted that MiEN’s furniture is a key factor in creating learning environments that reflect real-world work scenarios students might encounter in their chosen fields. 

To promote the atmosphere of each of these pathways, MiEN utilized a variety of layouts, seating options, and specialized furnishings. For example, in the Engineering and Design pathway, students can create at specialized tables with storage underneath, similarly to workstations they may find in future careers. Additionally, long tables in the Consumer Science pathway mimic the collaborative aspects of the field, offering the ability to present ideas and connect with peers. Finally, the Business and Communications pathway utilizes high tables and soft seating to create an environment that makes students feel empowered to work independently in a shared office space.

The innovation through intentional design has helped to widen the vision of what Explore Pathways are really about, enhancing the learning experience for students pursuing different pathways.

What’s Important When Choosing A Furniture Partner

Reflecting on the journey of establishing Echo Trail, Dr. Ammerman stressed the importance of not painting oneself into a corner with furniture choices. Flexibility and cohesion should be prioritized, ensuring that the selected furniture can adapt to changing needs over time

She also noted that it’s crucial to make sure furniture choices align with the school’s vision and mission, creating a cohesive look that enhances the school brand and tells a story. Every piece of Echo Trail’s design has a thoughtful meaning and purpose. For instance, the school colors––royal blue, baby blue, and green––reference the two high schools Echo Trail feeds into and the neighboring Parklands, a series of large public parks in Jefferson County. Creating this cohesion through intentional design helps to promote the school’s vision of community and inclusivity.

Dr. Ammerman also emphasized how schools should consider the age range of students and their developmental needs when selecting furniture. Because Echo Trail is a middle school, she wanted to lean away from couches in the environment, instead opting for innovation through intentional design with purposeful soft seating that communicates to students that the space is for learning rather than lounging.

Ultimately, Dr. Ammerman is pleased with Echo Trail’s collaboration with MiEN. She noted that MiEN stood out from other furniture providers, offering seamless communication, organization, and a wide range of options. The flexibility in textures, colors, and price points enabled Echo Trail to create a diverse and tailored learning environment.

Echo Trail Middle School Classrooms

Interview With Dr. Kara Ammerman: Principal of Echo Trail Middle School