Schools That Can, in partnership with Gensler, led Gensler Design Scholars programming in two New York high schools, bringing together students and professional architects for real-world learning experiences. In the eight-week program, Gensler Design Scholars, students focused on building safe, inclusive spaces within schools, drawing on their own lived experiences and hands-on, expert support from Gensler architects. Gensler Design Scholars is part of Schools That Can’s Scholars At Work programming, which brings work experiences directly to high school students in order to help them build critical career skills, discover areas of interest, and gain exposure to in-demand career pathways. 

Gensler’s research initiative found that prioritizing safety and belonging projects familiarity and comfort for young people, and that empathy, consideration, and understanding must be fundamentals of educational design. As the report states, the connection between design and student performance is well-documented, but primarily focuses on white students. Developing a more inclusive understanding of belonging in schools means examining the experiences all  students are having in their physical spaces. That includes bringing students into the process of designing those spaces themselves.

Read more about the program here. Below, Schools That Can talked to one of the scholars, about her experience in the program as a high school student. 

What was your favorite part of the Gensler Design Scholars Program? 

My favorite part of the Gensler program would be when we would go into those little break-out rooms and hang out with a few people to talk about what we would do and where we were in our projects. Before this program, I wasn’t really interested in design and architecture; I just saw it as a possible career.  

What was the most challenging part, or the biggest thing you learned?

The biggest thing that I have learned was when we were asking questions and discovered that a project mostly takes an architect’s whole life. They could also take up mini-projects in the meantime. 

Why are student perspectives on school design so important?

Students’ perspective on school design is so important because they are the ones mostly in this school for long periods of time, and actually explore and interact with the whole school, while teachers stay in one place most of the time. Not only is it about how long they’re staying, but how they feel while they’re at school. How a school looks can change how a student feels at school.