Del Mar students design Schools of the Future

Carmel Del Mar student Kaila created a classroom with loft space.
(Billing, Karen)

As Del Mar Union School District prepares to rebuild one of its oldest schools, Del Mar Heights, and build a new school in Pacific Highlands Ranch, this spring students were asked to participate in the School of the Future challenge. Students across the district put their design thinking skills to work, creating classrooms with lofts, more playful playgrounds and turning the lunch area from a “wasted space” into a fun place for social interaction and relaxing.

Ocean Air students imagined water features and koi ponds to provide calming spaces and considered placing play structures and fields on rooftops to conserve space. Sage Canyon students said they wanted playgrounds with zip lines, climbing walls and more swings, “Big kids like swings too!” Designs included everything from pirate ship play structures to robotic trash cans, even an ice skating rink.

“We’ve really seen our students looking at joy and whimsy. They are looking at things that are fun, they have ideas about specialized learning like gardens and theaters and cooking and how we can use technology in different ways,” said Chris Delehanty, executive director of capital programs and technology. “It’s really cool to see how they all want to have sunlight and natural play and climbing and treehouses-- there’s creeks and water going through many of the playgrounds. They clearly want comfortable seating and entertaining lunch areas.”

“What’s really heartwarming to see is inclusion and we saw that in a lot of our designs, where students really include everyone in the design.”

Del Mar Heights student Emily's drawing of her re-imagined library.
(Karen Billing)

As Delehanty provided a facilities update to the board at its June 26 meeting, examples of some of the students’ work was on display in the district meeting room, from drawings and written descriptions to detailed 3D models. DMUSD President Erica Halpern said it was amazing what the kids came up with. Each school had site showcases and district architects were in attendance to take notes of the emerging themes reflected in the designs.

“These are the people that are using it every day so their input really matters,” said trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick of the student-generated ideas.

Carmel Del Mar student Kalia’s “Modern Glitter Classroom” featured a variety of learning stations, included a loft and swings.

“Students around the world need an improved environment to increased learning,” wrote Kaila. “We need to make this change especially for combo class because we need different separated spaces with one big area”

Del Mar Heights students Olivia and Jason created STEAM + pods where all of the different subjects are connected by clear glass hallways from a central meeting room. “We didn’t put a glass hallway to the library because I know some kids like to go to the library during recess and lunch so I thought it would be more accessible to everybody,” they wrote. Olivia and Jason designed the space down to the color of the walls: green walls for science, purple walls for the tech lab and rainbow walls for art.

“Have you ever felt that kids get sidetracked while working?” asked Lucas and Igor, students at Carmel Del Mar. In their classroom, teachers and students have spaces of their own—there is a relaxing area, a learning room, supply rooms and large hallways, “There are long hallways so students won’t disturb each other while going somewhere.”

Del Mar Heights student Emily took on the library, creating rooms for different grade level reading, a nonfiction area for research, platforms to read e-books, seating that is “comfortable but functional, improved shelving and touch screen desks.

Del Mar Heights teacher Stefanie Mazepa had her third graders make observations about what was currently in the school’s play space and write about how it makes them think, feel and wonder.

Cade's outdoor learning area.
(Karen Billing)

“I wonder what I could do to change this place?” wrote Hannah-Maria. She wrote that the existing playground made her feel “excited and a little confused, thinking it could be a little touched up.”

Many students spent time rethinking the school’s outdoor space.

Del Mar Heights student Rylan envisioned a place where the different sports and games like the gaga pit, basketball courts, four square and tether ball are all separated for safety. Dividers prevent cherry balls from four square to “come flying and hit someone in the head.”

Cade thought up a new outdoor learning area for Del Mar Heights—currently they have reading rocks and a garden with a couple of seats. His new design features a white board fence, log benches, a hammock, a reading log and a work table with bar stools.

“The outdoor learning area would be a peaceful place and a good place to work,” Cade wrote. “ I hope my idea could be used in the real rebuild in some way!”

Delehanty said he noticed a theme in creating entertaining and comfortable places to eat—like one idea to create a Dolphin Diner.

“Eating lunch is important. It fills you up and gives you power,” wrote Heights student Cooper. “The lunch area we have right now consists of just a few tables, benches and a tarp.

Cooper thought of a welcoming space with wood coffee tables and padded wood benches, corner tables and a marble waterfall around a large communal “polished wood” table with metal stools all around.

Heights student Rees designed a similar social spot with pendant modern farmhouse lighting, designs on the wall and plants.

“The purpose of the lunch area is to help people learn social connection and manners,” Rees wrote. “I think a good lunch area is good so people can refresh their body after a hard morning of work in the classroom.”

Zara from Torrey Hills took a unique and somewhat futuristic approach to reinventing the lunch area.

She came up with the idea of lunch tables outfitted with a button that summons robotic trash cans. As students aren’t allowed to get up until the dismissal bell rings to throw away their trash, she said it often ends up on the floor, left on the table or “blowing away in the afternoon wind.”

“Trash cans can be summoned so they can throw away trash without leaving seats and going against the rules,” Zara said.

The robotic trash cans, she specified, would be solar-powered.

Zara's robotic lunch cans.
(Karen Billing)