It’s Like Google for Kids: How a Tech Icon’s Principles Inspire Learning


Leanne Meyer-Smith
Wight & Company

Edward Stange
Sunset Ridge School District 29

Amy Yurko

Sue Lara


1 Learning Units (LU)

How applies to HSW:

In the words of one Sunset Ridge parent, “It’s like Google for kids.”    When the opportunity arose to replace an aging, 85-year old school building with a new facility, Sunset Ridge School District in Northfield, Illinois, chose to completely reimagine how a school building can function_and the way in which it can actively support the unique developmental needs of its 4th-8th grade students.     While, contrary to the quoted parent’s comment, Google’s headquarters was not the model for Sunset Ridge, the design of the school aligns well with a number of Google’s Principles of Innovation.     Aim to Be Ten Times Better Sunset Ridge’s mission of “Cultivating a learning community that engages the hearts and minds of students, one child at a time” was just the beginning. The District aspired to go beyond this in terms of the design of their new building. Seeking to be the best school in the area, this project would enable them to attract new families through the integration of world-class education and innovative design.   Have a Mission That Matters Seeking to inspire students’ environmental consciousness led the District to pursue becoming the first Net-Zero energy school in Illinois, targeting LEED Platinum. And, like many new schools today, the building itself also serves as a learning tool. The school is a living laboratory that includes photovoltaic roof panels, rain harvesting mechanisms, a 300-gallon fish tank, and an outdoor nature area with a bird sanctuary and butterfly garden.     Focus on the User The new school is designed around the concept of communities that support each child as they journey from self-awareness to global awareness. The guiding principle of “me-we-community” shaped the design approach for each learning community, informing choices about scale, transparency, teaming, independent study, multi-age groups, support services, and personalized learning.     Innovation Comes from Anywhere Learning can happen anywhere, at any time. The new school creates opportunities outside of the traditional classroom for peer-to-peer learning, knowledge sharing, individual exploration, and discovery. Unique connections between library, maker labs, STEM, arts and an outdoor habitat serve multiple modalities of learning. The organizing element of the school is a unique “village square” that blends library, dining, and performance spaces, to nurture the creative spirit of the child and provide opportunities to engage the local community.   The result is an atmosphere that is extremely non-school-like in its organizational structure and appearance. Like Google’s headquarters, the new Sunset Ridge School is a unique place to learn, explore, play, grow, and connect.

Learning Objectives:
  • Understand what inspired a public school district to leverage building design as a means to attract families to its community.;
  • Explore the opportunities and challenges of designing for a unique range of ages and developmental stages.
  • Understand how space can impact both the academic and social/emotional development of students.;
  • Discover what it takes to achieve a Net-Zero building in northern Illinois’ challenging climate.
Primary Competency:

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Primary Domain:

Learning: Content of this session/workshop will focus on how we learn and/or how the physical environment responds specifically to various methods of instruction, pedagogies, learning styles, or learning trends.

Secondary Domain:

Context: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the circumstances that form the setting for the design and construction of specific learning environments and characteristics that distinguishes the project from other applications.