In this last column in a series on K-12 design, Barbara Crum, Principal and Market Sector Leader for K-12 at Perkins+Will, discusses a new type of learning environment that mirrors a traditional work place.
The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in Overland Park, Kansas, provides high school juniors and seniors with unique educational programs that will connect these students to a career interest area of their choice, offering them intensive and integrated profession-based study within that field.
CAPS is an interesting story about a new type of learning environment, which poses the question, “What will it take to make students successful in the future?” As educators seek to engage students as active participants in their own education, this program provides opportunities in a stimulating “real world” environment that is both compelling and relevant, and one that will often include industry professionals working alongside students.
Understanding that what is relevant is ever changing, CAPS provides a framework for learning about known industries and careers while also providing an inherently flexible environment that will allow for future and yet-to-be-invented careers to be gracefully incorporated into the program.
The project goals, building space programming and educational curriculum were formulated simultaneously as a product of a collaborative workshop process led by Perkins+Will that included district administrators, educators, industry leaders and business professionals.
From Kansas biotech companies, to Garmin Industries, each participant in the process was critical to the vision for the project and each had a unique opportunity to lend their perspective on the direction of various industry “strands” that would be contained in the school.
Initially, those strands include: Bioscience, Business, Engineering and Human Services, each of which encompasses a variety of sub-pathways and each selected due to its particular relevancy in the Kansas City regional marketplace.
While academic, the look and feel of CAPS is decidedly not that of a traditional school. To reinforce the connection between coursework and real work, careful consideration was given to create an environment that mirrors a professional work place.
The examination of ideal environments of various career strands identified several common programmatic threads — large flexible spaces for “doing”, transparent project areas for intra- and inter- strand collaboration, and small group areas for real world meetings/presentations or individual work.
The planning for the building organizes all spaces on three levels around a centralized entry-level student commons that will support a variety of functions from informal gatherings, to science expositions, to community meetings.
Rising dramatically from one end of this commons, a large wood-clad amphitheater stair connects the entry level to floors above and provides an ideal amenity for large group presentations as well as a stage for the presentation of student work product.
The strands housed in CAPS are located on various levels adjacent to the commons. Located directly outside of each series of specialized classrooms and lab spaces, associated with any given strand, is a large and flexible project space that is visible from the classrooms through glass windows. These flexible project spaces overlook the student commons and provide a multitude of functions in support of each strand, including informal gatherings, small group work, display areas and dedicated project workspace.