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Fairchild Wheeler Inter District Magnet Campus Lauded as James D. MacConnell Award Winner

Washington, D.C. — Fairchild Wheeler Inter District Magnet Campus, Bridgeport Public Schools, Bridgeport, CT, designed by JCJ Architecture, is the recipient of the 2016 James D. MacConnell Award. Presented at the recent Association for Learning Environments LearningSCAPES conference in Philadelphia, PA, this prestigious award recognizes a comprehensive planning process that results in educational facilities that enhance the educational program, meet multiple goals and hold purpose and distinction within a community.

Rob Pillar, principal, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates and jury chair commented, “All of this year’s entries were exceptional, making it an extremely difficult task for the jury.  The Fairchild Wheeler project stood out because of the team’s tenacity to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to achieve their vision.  The project epitomizes how a school can inspire a community toward a common goal.”

Fairchild Wheeler Inter District Magnet Campus (FWIMC) shaped a community around overriding beliefs that context is not destiny and guided learning can open the door to new connections and possibilities. Situated on 25 acres within a larger 100-acre park, the Fairchild Wheeler campus brings together 1500 students from Bridgeport Public Schools and eight surrounding districts into three 500-student small learning communities focused around a rigorous and interactive STEM curriculum. The three programs—Information Technology and Software Engineering, Biotechnology Research and Zoological Sciences, Aerospace/Hydrospace Engineering and Physical Sciences—emphasize project based learning and direct partnerships with educational and industry experts. Students are not organized in grade clusters, but move vertically through the magnet wings depending on the academic focus and activity requirements.

As Claire Gold, former Westport superintendent and educational advocate, remarked, “This project is impressive for its rigor, tenacity and faith.” Ten years of negotiations, planning, vision and redefining the school district boundaries resulted in a LEED Gold Certified building that is adaptive and receptive to dynamic change. In three thematic variations, students at Fairchild Wheeler explore science, mathematics, engineering and technology in a project-based learning environment that demonstrates relevance through real-life applications and problem solving across many different disciplines. This approach lays the groundwork for not only STEM-related careers, but also an important level of literacy in these spheres.

“Every part of the school environment was designed to empower students to take responsibility for their own learning and promote interdisciplinary connections,” said Jim LaPosta, Principal-in-Charge from JCJ Architecture. To strengthen a sense of connection and responsibility in students, there was great interest in developing green/ sustainable building features that could be incorporated into the curriculum. Fairchild Wheeler accomplished a complete sustainable message in the integration of multiple eco-systems into the curriculum, architecture and opportunities for outdoor learning.

Epitomizing how a school can inspire and engage a community in a common goal, Fairchild Wheeler’s response to a bold vision to reduce and prevent racial ethnic and economic isolation of public school students in the region was remarkable. The success of the project became evident in the team interview when a student, Cody, said “Attending this school has changed my perspective on life in general.”

Two other exceptional schools were selected as MacConnell Award finalists:

Learning happens everywhere at Cherry Crest Elementary, Bellevue, Washington, an exemplary architectural response incorporating interior and exterior environments to support 21st century teaching and learning. Making the ordinary extraordinary, this project is a perfect blend of site and building with the entire site as a teaching tool. Planned and designed by NAC Architecture, the school is an invitation to learn in other ways within very flexible and personalized spaces. Every time parents go to the school, they notice something new about it and enjoy spending time in the space.

Katy ISD’s Robert Shaw Center for STEAM, designed by Stantec, is an exceptionally innovative approach to project based learning on a large scale within a community. Resembling a Google workspace, every aspect of the building is utilized for learning including the walls. Young inventors working on robotic creations, students investigating projected light color combinations, and learners taking fingerprints and conducting interviews on a simulated crime scene define the Robert Shaw Center experience. Developing this program with a small footprint and budget, the standalone facility maximizes return on investment by creating a lifelong learning resource for the entire community.

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