RHS Architecture Students Win Grants to Rebuild Outdoor Spaces

The RISD community continues to collaborate on projects across the district. Students at one campus are designing outdoor spaces at other campuses, as two Eagle Scouts from yet another campus are providing the labor to get the project started, all while a local group provides philanthropic support.

Richardson High School students designed new spaces for two elementary campuses that received grants from the North Texas Chapter of the Association for Learning Environments, a global non-profit organization of architects, planners and educators.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz said the RHS students chose to design outdoor spaces at RISD Academy and Forest Lane Academy to help bring students, staff and families together, potentially mixing curriculum with real life micro-businesses.

Two teams of Waldo’s architecture design students studied myriad tables of data, including demographics and test scores, from each school. They also went to the schools, surveyed the land and spoke with campus administrators.

The RHS students produced videos outlining the scope of their proposed designs. Their “Hope for Impoverished Community” submission for Forest Lane Academy won, and the team will receive $7,500 for the project.

Rivera-Ortiz taught at Forest Lane Academy and says their community needs are overwhelming.

“High poverty and crime rates, violence, and fear are daily struggles for these families,” he says.

The RHS architecture students “thought of providing an open space in the play area where students and their families can grow food they could benefit from. Such an ‘Urban Garden’ could bring pride to the many immigrant and refugee families,” of the area many of whom lived an agriculturally based life prior to emigrating to the U.S., Rivera-Ortiz said.

The plans call for the construction of a few rows of amphitheater seating built into an existing knoll to provide teachers an area to instruct. The RHS students hope the new space will work as a place where elementary students and their families can share, grow and bond in respect and safety. The hope is the outdoor learning space morphs into a community garden over time.

The RHS students received the Bronze Award for their plans for RISD Academy, and that includes $2,500 for the rehabilitation of a courtyard at the Coit Road campus.

Rivera-Ortiz knew RISD Academy had been mulling a garden space for a few years. His students worked with principal Rebeca Henriquez and community outreach specialist Maria Ethetton to draft plans for the space that consider the school’s science curriculum and other subjects that could be taught in this type of outdoor urban area.

Ethetton says the A4LE grant funds acquisition of a cistern, installation of writing stations and construction of pathways to make the space more accessible. She expects remaining funds to provide for seeds and tools to grow and cultivate the garden.

With the help of a few Eagle Scouts from J.J. Pearce High School, Ethetton and Henriquez cleaned the space and have it ready for the construction of the garden beds.

Mike Lyssy, senior project manager and senior associate at Perkins+Will, says the total amount awarded has increased the past four years and the North Texas chapter of A4LE hopes to continue boosting the number of annual awards presented.

The A4LE award enhances “the usability of any qualified educational environment with a permanent improvement or modification” and also impacts the community and its involvement in the local education process, according to the committee of architectural professionals.

The North Texas A4LE chapter wants to impact its community through revitalization efforts of campus learning environments.

“We feel obligated to dedicate some of our local resources to the economic development, physical health, educational opportunity and social wellness of the communities served by our chapter.”

Rivera-Ortiz said his students have received an invite to participate in the A4LE awards for three years.

“My students break into teams to study a school in need of such space in RISD. Two years ago, we proposed a community design studio we called R STUDIO for our school, and we won the top award of $6,000. Last year, we proposed a flexible learning space for RHS’s AVID program and for special events, but were not as lucky with the awards,” Waldo said.

“The vision for the Forest Lane and RISD Academy is to incorporate the community into our curriculum, bringing real-life experiences to our students. The idea is that if these spaces can help close the learning gaps urban students face, as well as the lack of opportunities many families struggle with, we can impact students and families beyond these two schools. RISD wants to bring our learning standards to life so that students not only learn in the classroom, but live it, breathe it, touch it, and engage with it.”

Check out the work of the RHS architecture students at www.rstudiotx.wix.com/design