Academic Building Supports Collaborative Learning Environments

For more than 30 years, the Orangewood Foundation has provided innovative services for at-risk children and families. The new 480-student Samueli Academy is a pivotal part of this mission. Samueli Academy offers local foster and community youth a new choice for their high school education.

LPA’s integrated design team worked closely with the Foundation, the Academy and the community to create an engaging educational environment where learning happens everywhere. Facility tours, case studies and design charrettes encouraged participation and engagement in a fun and meaningful way to establish shared values and vision for the new school.

The result was a master plan with a 115,000-square-foot academic downtown focused on project-based learning featuring a student union, innovation and health center intertwined with studios, labs and collaborative learning commons.

The first phase of the master plan is the three-story, 30,000-square-foot academic building that includes innovative learning spaces that support the engineering and design pathways in their STEM-focused, project-based curriculum.

Each floor of the new building features a STEM lab and four learning studios that share a collaborative learning commons. Flexibility is imperative for supporting multiple teaching models and allowing a project-based learning environment to thrive. Walls open, furniture rolls and collaboration are supported within classrooms, common areas and even in cozy corridor wall niches along with inspirational graphics.

The unique program elements and the building entrances are highlighted with smooth fiber cement panels and glass. Learning studios feature operable windows, with ample daylight and views. Clip-on shades protect glass at southern orientation.

Engineering and design pathways were created as the foundation for a STEM program where students can collaborate on science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum. Technology is integrated into the design and students learn with interactive smart boards that help to support the one-to-one ratio of laptops to student. The teaching philosophy embraces students taking an active, hands-on role in their learning.

Samueli Academy’s Head of School Anthony Saba can frequently be heard saying on tours of the facility that it is especially important in the 21st century that we don’t just teach students what they need to know, but show them why they need to know it.

Currently seeking LEED for Schools certification, the campus includes several high performance elements:

  • Exceeds California Title-24 2008 standards by approximately 26 percent.
  • Buildings orientate on an east-west axis to maximize north light, while sunshades on the south protect from glare and heat gain.
  • Windows open, natural light illuminates the classroom, and daylighting occupancy controls are provided.
  • Exposed steel structure and building systems are a laboratory and educational tool for smart green design.
  • Academic building’s storm water runoff is collected and infiltrated in permeable pavers beneath parking spaces at the perimeter of the site to recharge the groundwater. 

Future expansion on the 7.1-acre campus for this public charter high school includes a student union, gymnasium, specialized learning studios and a residential village to board 80 foster youth and their guardian families. Designed as a vibrant “live and learn” urban village, the campus is intended to be an inspirational sustainable environment where learning happens everywhere. And for the foster youth, it may be the most stable living environment they have ever known, allowing them to excel academically. 

The Orangewood Foundation has found that by the time a foster child starts high school they have had as many as 10 placements and attended as many as 15 different schools. Creating a strong educationally focused community, with joint-use and industry partnerships was part of the mission for the school and LPA has designed a campus where students can have a stable environment and thrive academically, socially and emotionally.  

Samueli Academy is financed entirely by donation and will be built overtime as funds are accumulated. It was decided that the academic building would be the first phase of permanent construction on campus to suit capacity needs. As a token of immense gratitude and to memorialize these charitable contributions, donors are recognized throughout the campus with various types of information and inspirational signage.  While no timeline has been established for expansion, the success of the School’s academic scorecard, and the number of students who place themselves in the annual attendance lottery, can only lead to the fulfillment of the master plan vision.

This School is a place where students “live and learn” in a variety of spaces that can inspire and guide them to become productive in their academic careers which can lead to lifelong success.

Recently, the Samueli Academy was honored with the distinction of receiving an Award of Merit in the Specialized Facility from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) and the American Institute of Architects California Council (AIACC). Juror’s said that this project reflects the “strong vision” of the client foundation, and noted that the first stage of the project has been particularly well executed. All the jurors said that they look forward to seeing the completion of this project.  

The Samueli Academy symbolically is a microcosm of the world that these children will be coming a part of and need to find success in. One of their tools for success will be education and this is the first step in becoming lifelong learners. 

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