Casey Middle School: Light and Learning

The principal at Casey Middle School, to see all the changes done in the remodeling of the school. Alison worked with the RB +B architects, inc. to rebuild Casey Middle School into a school filled with natural day light. Re-opened in August 2010, the school has an amazing amount of windows (inside and out). There are 134 sola-tubes in the ceilings streaming in light throughout the day. The kids have a view to the outside from just about anywhere in the school.

The human body gets 90% of its’ vitamin D from the sun. Studies suggest day light is a vital component needed for a healthy immune system. Healthier kids do better in developmental skills and overall educational performance. During such a critical time of development, natural day light is one thing kids can really grow from. Studies also suggest that kids, as well as adults who stay in well lit environments are exposed to fewer bacterias and viruses that naturally thrive in dark places.

Casey Middle School is also a model in energy efficiency, and solar lighting. An award winning architectural example of a school gone “green.” From the solar panels outside the building, that also provide shade for the bike racks, to the roof top gardens which provide a cooling effect, this building promises to leave a very small carbon foot print. Utilities will be considerably lower than the original 1924 structure. The new ” green” water system is estimated to provide a 43 percent reduction in water use. While the solar panels should see a 54 percent reduction in energy use, making Casey Middle School a marvel to behold.

The high ceilings give the school a light and well ventilated feeling. This well tempered environment gives you space to breath in, and inspires creative thinking. The one thing that I noticed was the calmness of the class rooms. The kids didn’t seem to have that anxiousness that kids exhibit, when they’ve been locked up in a room without much day light. They seemed more relaxed and genuinely more engaged with their studies. Alison will credit most of that to the wonderful staff, but I think the schools environment is supportive of that as well.

Security is another element I spoke to Alison about. The school opted for an open view school, meaning that all the class rooms have ample windows, for viewing in and outside the class room. No hiding what’s happening behind closed doors anymore. Since lack of visibility within class rooms can create problems, Alison together with the architects, chose transparency. There are glass windows, on the walls of the classroom facing into the hallways. The glass fish-bowl effect means that the teachers and kids can be seen, and being seen means a shift in behavior as well. The main glass entrance doors are locked during school hours, so that all visitors must enter through the main office door to gain access to the rest of the school.

The cafeteria hall is now called the cafe, which gives the room a sense of dignity, located in the central area of the schools main floor. It’s very open and bright, with massive windows. A clean, modern space with style, that the kids can actually care about. I talked with Allison a little about the food in the school. She encourages the kids to trade their strawberry milk and chips in for fresh fruits and granola bars! “You can look around the lunch tables and see kids have more apples and oranges on their trays.”

Art and music are fully supported by the new building, structures within for better sound quality, and high ceilings with lots of light. The new Library is warm and welcoming, the colors lift your eyes from floor to ceiling. With art projects placed as decorations, and spacious open study areas that give students plenty of room for their projects. It also has a modern feel, the western wall of the original building is still in place, housing new windows while giving the library a bit of Casey’s’ historical charm.

Another topic we touched on was advice. I asked Alison, “After all your years of being a Principal, what’s the one message you really feel needs more press, something that you would share with incoming families or families with a child in middle school?” Her answer was, “I would probably say how important it is for you to spend time with your kids. It’s easy for parents of middle school children to feel like the kids can be left alone after school for a couple of hours while they finish up at work. They are getting older, and you do want to give them a strong sense of responsibility, but they still really need you, especially from 3:30pm-5:30pm.”

It was a delight to visit with Alison and take a tour of the new building. I actually attended the old Casey back in the 70?s, when it was such a gloomy place. It had dark hallways that made it difficult just to see where your locker was, let alone what was in it. Small stair cases that were packed with students during passing periods, making it difficult to get to your class on time. My Science, French, Art, and English classes were all in the basement. It was dismal down there when I was a kid, a sad place for a class room.

When the day was over, you walked out of school feeling like you had just been in a movie theater for 8 hours. Now the school is light and lively, and has a cheerful, uplifted feeling. Classes that were in the basement are gone now, and have been quite appropriately replaced by an underground parking structure. Students for years to come will enjoy this campus, a progressive design that could be used as a template for other communities.