New Schools Designed to Create a “Magical” Impact on Students

Hanover County Public Schools is a school system located just north of Richmond, Virginia that serves approximately 17,000 students across 26 schools. The division’s aging facilities and increasing population have created the need for four new elementary schools to replace the existing facilities. The new schools have incorporated an educational philosophy based on the learning viewpoint developed at The Ron Clark Academy in southeast Atlanta, GA. The idea is that the schools adopt a house system where students are engaged and receive direct awards for their achievement and success.

The Ron Clark Academy (RCA) is a highly acclaimed, nonprofit middle school located in Southeast Atlanta. The Academy has received both national and international recognition for its success for creating a loving, dynamic learning environment that promotes academic excellence and fosters leadership. Their 4th – 8th grade students represent various socio-economic and academic backgrounds and communities from across the metro region.

The Academy seeks to extend its reach beyond its student body by having an impact upon students everywhere. RCA is a demonstration school – a place where visiting educators engage in a vibrant professional development experience by observing best practices in action before participating in hands-on workshops. In the past 16 years, more than 100,000 superintendents, district level administrators, and teachers have participated in the RCA Experience to learn better ways to engage students, promote academic excellence, build relationships, and create a positive climate and culture.

The Ron Clark Academy House System is a dynamic, exciting, and proven way to create a positive climate and culture for students and staff. Using RCA’s methods can help schools implement processes that build character, relationships, and school spirit. The guidelines are designed to give you a streamlined framework that can be applied to any type of learning environment.

A unique challenge presented to Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates (CRA) was to incorporate this RCA learning style into our elementary school design philosophy and design a unique school that enhances this program and supports their modified educational program.

Beaverdam Elementary School CRA Rendering

Incorporating RCA Into Our Design

The new schools incorporate a “main street” concept where students entering the building move into a large two-story space with daylighting and vibrant finishes and graphics. This “main street” serves as the major axis of the building and allows for easy movement and wayfinding throughout the building.

Off of main street are two-story wings to house the students. These wings are designed to be flexible and create identify for each of the “houses” the students. The students go through a sorting ceremony and are assigned to an individual house. The building is designed to create spaces and identify for each house.

Each school will have a marquis design element to anchor the playfulness of the RCA concept and create an exciting element for students to gravitate toward. These key elements include a two-story enclosed slide, a tree house and in some cases both!

The buildings are designed to be age appropriate and use colors and finishes to create a stimulating and engaging environment. Our design team worked closely with the Hanover team to develop an environment that captures the spirit of RCA and meet the core values of HCPS.

At Hanover County Public Schools, they found a magical way to improve grades.

“Their achievement soars through having a connection through an adult,” team leader Lauren Churchill said. “We provide an opportunity to build those relationships. That’s what we’re hoping to see come from this.”

Ms. Churchill got the idea after she, other HCPS staff and CRA visited the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. They started a house system last school year and served as mentors in the creation of John Gandy’s house system.

The students find out their house with a sorting ceremony at the pre-K thru 2nd grade Henry Clay Elementary School. The students keep their house when they move to John Gandy’s 3rd thru 5th grade campus.

Ms. Churchill and a group of resource leaders provide each house with a trait and a purpose.

The traits are divided into trustworthiness, innovation, gratefulness, empathy, and respect.

The activities are fun and wild.

The lessons are simple.

“Anytime kids are engaged they’re going to have better academic performance,” Ms. Finch said. “They want to be here and looking forward to what they’re going to do and we’re going to see better engagement. ” Leigh Finch

The result is simply magical.

“It’s hard to say without getting emotional because I really care about it,” Ms. Churchill said. “I want them to feel loved. I want them to have a place where they feel special and feel connected and I want them to know that we really care deeply for them. And that they have that love here.”

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