Manchester Middle Schoolers Collaborate on Sustainability

Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County is currently undergoing a large-scale renovation to bring it out of the 1960’s and into the 21st century and beyond. Our goal is to create a school that addresses different learning styles from self-direction to active discussion in the classroom and throughout the school. At BCWH we make it part of our process to observe and understand the style of learning taking place in the school’s current environment. For the renovation project at Manchester Middle School, architects Allison Powell and Allie Jarett observed and participated in the project-based learning method currently being used at Manchester.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a dynamic classroom approach in which students investigate real-world problems and study resolutions from various angles of thought. Based on this learning style, the design of collaborative spaces throughout the renovated building will incorporate an open and inviting space near the core classrooms that allow for cross-curricular collaboration for each grade level. For instance, a history class and a science class will have the opportunity to work together outside of their regular classrooms and take advantage of collaboration / interaction spaces equipped with different seating, conference tables, and a technology wall to understand and collaborate on subject matters that have routinely stayed within individual classrooms.  Doing so allows a better understanding of relevance to the students and helps different types of learners gain knowledge and skills in different ways.

In November, students at Manchester participated in an annual energy conservation contest amongst Chesterfield County middle schools to see which school could conserve the most energy during a three week period. Following the contest, Manchester students and teachers were inspired by the experience and posed the question, “How can we motivate our school community to consistently practice energy conservation methods year-round?” The teachers saw this as an excellent opportunity to implement project-based learning, challenging the students to address the issue from various angles. In science classes, students studied energy resources and conservation. English classes prepared business proposal letters to BCWH persuading us to implement energy efficient practices and overall sustainability in the Manchester renovation.


BCWH received letters from the 400 Manchester seventh graders, urging us to incorporate natural light, efficient mechanical systems, solar panels, LED lighting, motion detection lighting, and many other sustainable strategies into the renovation of their school. After reading through the letters, Allison and Allie visited the school to address the students about their suggestions. One sustainable design feature highlighted in the discussion was the benefits of natural light in conserving electricity and promoting productivity and happiness in the classroom. In order to further engage the students, we shared with them partnership opportunities such as the Connect the Dots Green School Challenge the Greater Virginia Green Building Council hosts each year. We explained to them the opportunity the program created to help extend their collaboration from working with each other in the classroom to working with professionals in the real world.


As architects who focus on designing places of learning, the method of learning heavily influences our design decisions. Being a part of it further opens our eyes to creatively think about how learning spaces can enable teachers and students to prepare for the real world. Our school design should directly respond to the modern ways in which students are learning. BCWH’s goal to create spaces that foster collaboration and teaming has been supported through our interactions with Manchester’s students, and we look forward to further growing our relationship with them throughout the construction process and into the future.


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