St. Margaret’s Involves Students in Student Commons Design Process

Many Upper School students have been tasked with presenting their vision of what student-centered spaces in the Student Commons could look like.
St. Margaret’s next major campus project is the Student Commons – a state-of-the-art two-story building that aligns with school-wide priorities of community, student health and well-being. 
The Student Commons will feature a from-scratch kitchen, a dining hall, and a modern strength and performance center. The plans for the building’s second story, however, have not been fully developed—and that’s where St. Margaret’s students have offered their insight. 
Many Upper School students have been tasked with presenting their vision of what student-centered spaces in the Student Commons could look like. Using the design-thinking methodology developed at Stanford University’s Design Institute and utilized in St. Margaret’s Innovation Strategy work in recent years, students have collaborated with one another to develop ideas for the space, going as far as drawing up a prototype floor plan for the building’s second floor. 
A group of grade 12 students took part in the process earlier this school year, and more recently, 23 Upper School students in grades 9 and 10 dedicated their Innovation Block mini-course time to providing their input on the Student Commons and the needs of students for the space, working with Assistant Head of School Ryan Dahlem.
“As the Student Commons embodies St. Margaret’s commitment to student-centered health and well-being initiatives, it only made sense that our students themselves would be involved in the planning,” Mr. Dahlem said. “We have learned so much from these Upper School students on what is important to them. Their insight is invaluable, and their work has impacted not only how the Student Commons takes shape, but how we look at physical spaces throughout our campus.”
The needs that students expressed varied. Some desire rooms designed for student academic collaboration, others seek joyful spaces to interact with friends, and still others prefer quiet spaces to slow down and unwind. The students went as far as sketching out a prototype blueprint of the roughly 12,000-square-foot second story of the Student Commons.
As part of the grade 9 and grade 10 Innovation Block, students completed their design-thinking work and then took a trip to the campus of the University of California, Irvine, where they toured the UCI Student Center to further find inspiration and ideas. Students were enamored with the modern furnishings, flexible meeting rooms with digital signups, natural lighting and other perks. After taking the tour and recording ideas, the students enjoyed lunch at UCI.
The next round of Innovation Block mini-courses this spring will offer another chance for students to sign up for a design-thinking block dedicated to the Student Commons, where they will have the chance to offer their insight and, ultimately, play an important role in the future of St. Margaret’s campus and the health of well-being of all Tartans.
“The latest research informs us that human thriving is built over a lifetime of healthy habits of mind and body, positive purposeful engagement and community, and the quality of our relationships,” said Dr. Jeneen Graham, Upper School Principal and Head of School-Elect. “Research also informs us that social and emotional health are key factors impacting learning and development in children. It is essential for us to create programs and environments that are geared toward healthy living and positive social engagement for our students.
“All of these things are intentionally nurtured and practiced here at St. Margaret’s, and will be further explored and enhanced by the Student Commons. We are excited to realize the potential of this space and are thankful for the students who have contributed their thoughts on how the Student Commons could help Tartans in the future.”
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