Creating Cultural Change Through Student Co-authorship of Their Learning Environments

AIA Continuing Education Provider

1 LU

Physical space can be a catalyst for change, it can communicate and foster the skills we value and seek to instill in our students. Ownership and self appropriation contribute to an ideal future state for students. This is built on the principle of critical thinking; of understanding how to make the world around them work with them, not against them. Garden City Elementary will be built on this notion of using space as a catalyst for change to foster the skills their diverse range of students need to thrive. When the new school project was drafted, Cranston Public School District realigned their vision for learning and teaching. A pillar of this vision is a strong commitment to designing learning environments that reflect the values and aspirations of all their learners. The school district gave the students at Garden City Elementary a unique assignment: design their ideal learning environment. This year-long project, spanning two academic years, took place to shift educators’ thinking, model the way for students, and encourage the adoption of learning environments to be the catalyst for change, for all. From ideation to prototyping, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students were actively involved throughout the process to ensure the school was built to support their diverse range of needs. This session will guide participants through the project from start to current state, shifting perspectives to more closely align with that of an elementary student, and ensuring a clear understanding of how to gather and implement student voice in a clear and actionable manner. The project at Garden City Elementary will be the session focus, with examples from other schools within the district, to articulate themes and learnings from a range of students, educators, and community stakeholders.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Establish strong, actionable connections between a district wide strategic plan and an elementary classroom protocol, intentionally informing a new school building and programming.
  2. Experience space through the eyes of a student by shifting perspective, asking ‘what else could this be?’ including active ideation and prototyping.
  3. Translate student feedback into learnings to be implemented in building design.
  4. Craft a clear personal call to action for how you can actively engage all students in future design opportunities, ensuring student spaces are influenced by students.
Michelle Carpenter
Michelle Carpenter
Chief Strategy Officer, Natural Pod,

Michelle is the chief strategy officer (CSO) at Natural Pod, a company focused on creating better learning environments. Michelle specializes in developing, communicating, executing, and sustaining strategic initiatives, ensuring Natural Pod thoughtfully supports students and educators within their learning environments.

Jill Ackers-Clayton
Jill Ackers-Clayton, ALEP

Bryan Byerlee
Bryan Byerlee
Principal, Garden City School,

Bryan is the principal at Garden City Elementary, part of Cranston Public Schools in Cranston, Rhode, Island. As a former educator, Bryan has a deeply rooted passion for creating dynamic learning experiences, engages students, educators, and staff alike within their learning community. Bryan received a Masters of Education for Providence College, with an emphasis in Elementary and Middle School Administration/Principalship.

Track: The Experience of Place

The built and natural environments have profound impacts on our behaviors both for better and worse. How do we cultivate a sense of place for better? How might the built and natural environments be made to enhance teaching and learning? How might school buildings and grounds foster a sense of community by reflecting those they serve?

Primary Core Competency
Educational Visioning: Exhibits an understanding of best and next practices related to educational leadership, programming, teaching, learning, planning and facility design. Establishes credibility with educators, community members and design professionals while conceiving and leading a community-based visioning process. Demonstrates the ability to articulate the impact of learning environments on teaching and learning and uses that ability to facilitate a dialogue that uncovers the unique needs and long-range goals of an educational institution and its stakeholders – translating that into an actionable written/graphic program of requirements for the design practitioner. 


Marriott Rivercenter
101 Bowie Street
San Antonio, TX 78205

October 5-9, 2022


+1 480.391.0840