One of the most challenging times in a young student’s life can be the big leap from middle school to high school. The new Rio Grande High School Ninth Grade Academy is designed to ease that transition for all ninth graders in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) by bringing them together without the distractions of older students, giving them an extra year to mature and prepare for the challenges of high school.
The Academy is a new direction for APS and cutting edge for the district. The 90,000 square feet, three story facility has 24 classrooms and a capacity of up to 2000 students. Designed around the teaching concept of six teams, with half of each floor dedicated to a single team alongside a common collaboration area between classrooms, the flexibility of the space supports students with a wide variety of needs. The collaborative teaching and learning areas can be used for independent study, tutoring, special projects, student support. The extended learning areas ebb and flow as to arrangement and use—small classrooms to group lessons—in support of the curriculum. In addition, there are Special Education and accelerated AP classrooms, computer labs and a teacher “home base” on each floor.
The Academy has a strong focus on a STEM core curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math) with state of the art high school science labs featuring demonstration fume hoods and full services at each lab station. Labs are located immediately adjacent to science classrooms. All classrooms are open with windows that allow students to observe their peers working on biology or chemistry projects.
The new building is also a technology rich environment—a wireless network, HDTVs, a scrolling network message center, interactive white boards with wireless Bluetooth® support the curriculum and all the systems can be adapted for evolving technologies.
The contemporary architecture of the Academy has two distinct facades. The curving “front door” face features large windows to bring natural light into the building while the rear facade presents a pattern of bright orange squares and frames the boundary of “our school” for the students. Designed with simple colors to help minimize distractions, the interior spaces are combinations of red, gray, tan and black, and a muted red. The walls are brick and the floors are of polished concrete as mandated by the district. The whole look is sleek and modern.
In addition to lots natural light, the Academy is equipped with extensive LED lighting and a very effective integrated Variable Refrigeration Flow (VRF) system to create a cool and comfortable learning environment that helps students focus on their studies
“APS has been developing this ninth grade concept for a number of years; this is the first time APS has built such a school,” says Van Gilbert, FAIA, President of Van H. Gilbert Architect PC, which designed the school in cooperation with APS. “The goal was to create a real learning environment specific to ninth graders. With its interactive design, the Academy supports the new pedagogical approach and we believe all students will benefit from this flexible paradigm.”