Educational Vision: An Interview with the AHS Principal


What is exciting about the design for the new high school? Ask Principal Matthew Janger, and he will tell you that he is excited by the way the design meets all the Guiding Principles that were set forth in the AHS Educational Program in the early stages of the building project. Dr. Janger says that,

“This is a building that values all disciplines equally and fully supports a strong educational program. The design places subjects that should be working together adjacent to one another, creates communities, and incorporates flexibility, collaboration, and innovation. There is no wasted space, with interdisciplinary areas open to all, and support for our strong departmental and house structure. This is a building that values all children and the education of the whole child.”

The process that brought us to this point has been detailed and thorough. Dr. Janger and members of the faculty visited new schools, noting what they liked and didn’t like. They evaluated current teaching methods and identified the elements that a new building must contain to meet the future needs of education in Arlington. The Guiding Principles in the Education Program–teacher professionalism, inquiry and collaboration, creating and creativity, students’ social-emotional needs, and an inclusive and engaged community–were further informed by guidelines developed by the Educational Visioning Workgroup comprising teachers, administrators,  students, and members of the community.

The best way to understand how the design meets the Guiding Principles is to take a quick tour of the key elements of the new building. Let’s start at the center.

The Commons

The architects refer to the central core of the building as the spine, the point from which the academic, athletic, and performing arts wing emanate. But this description understates its significance. The spine is configured and equipped as a Commons, a space of community, collaboration, learning, and wellness. Simply put, it is the “beating heart” of the school–the first area that all students enter and the last space they leave. It is an area that gives students agency and freedom yet can be easily supervised.

Students will congregate in the Cafeteria on the ground floor throughout the day, spilling out into the adjacent courtyard when the weather is nice, and onto the wide Forum steps that lead to the second floor. There they can enter the Black Box Theater to take a drama class or see productions such as student directed one-act plays.

Moving up the spine we are reminded that today’s library is a hub for research, literacy, creativity, and collaboration. The Library Learning Commons on the third floor is a student-centered, accessible, flexible environment with multi-use spaces that support a wide range of simultaneous learning activities. Designed to be a social and academic destination, the Library Learning Commons houses research tools, technology, gathering, and breakout spaces. It is large enough for entire classes to meet and collaborate while other students engage in individual work. Technology-enabled small break-out rooms support project-based and personalized learning. Other areas provide space for single students to take a quiet moment to sit, reflect, study, or concentrate.

On the fourth floor, the Commons is the point of entry for the Language and Discourse Labs. Language labs are no longer defined by individual cubicles where students practice pronunciation. They are multimedia immersion spaces that take advantage of the connecting and engaging power of technology, from virtual reality to Skype. The new Language Lab will host exchange students and other gatherings, presentations, performances, and productions. The Discourse Lab is an interdisciplinary center configured to enable discussion, debate, class presentations, and professional development workshops. The Lab is large enough to allow up to five classes to be present at once and can be used to host speakers and moot courts. It is a flexible breakout space for collaborative and interactive projects as well.

The Wings

The academic wings of the new high school are designed, as Dr. Janger says, “…to place subjects that should be working together, together, create communities, and incorporate flexibility, collaboration, and innovation.” The students see this as soon as they enter the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) wing on the second floor. Innovation and creativity are front and center. Visual Arts classrooms and the Digital Arts Lab occupy one side of the hallway. The CADD Lab and two interdisciplinary Makerspaces—an engineering project room with digital tools (e.g. laser cutter, 3D printer), and a wood and metal shop with hand and digital tools—line the other. State-of-art Science labs and Mathematics classrooms are co-mingled on the other three floors, enabling collaboration between and within the two departments. Both hands-on and digital experimentation are supported in the labs and Makerspaces.

The Performing Arts wing enables a robust, creative, and collaborative drama, instrumental, choral, and digital music and production program. The 900-seat Auditorium with dressing rooms and up-to-date lighting and acoustics is complemented by a Black Box theater that opens onto an amphitheater for outdoor productions. The wing includes a large Band room, appropriate storage, Practice Rooms, Choral room, and Production Lab and Studio. The adjacencies of the Performing Arts disciplines facilitate interaction and space sharing.

World Language, English Language Arts, and History and Social Studies classrooms are on the second through fifth floors of the Humanities wing. The “neighborhood” concept—placement of more closely related disciplines adjacent to each other—fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, and all benefit from easy access to the research, literature, and technology tools in the Library Learning Commons. Appropriately sized classrooms are flexible and integrated technology enables project-based learning. Specialized and integrated Special Education programs are also housed here.

Visiting athletes and spectators makes storage and security a top priority throughout the school year. The Athletics wing is designed to be accessed from the outside while securing the building. Athletes can proceed from the ground floor locker rooms to the playing fields or the second floor  gyms without going through the rest of the school. This wing includes a large gym, small gym, an alternative Physical Education room, Fitness Center, health rooms, Trainer’s room, and a shared PE space. Improved acoustics and sound system in the large gym facilitates its use by more than one group simultaneously and makes it a gathering and performance space for the school community.

Special Education Programs

Principal Janger is very excited about the way the new design enables Special Education programming to be centrally located and more fully integrated into the life of the school. Classrooms for the specialized and integrated programs are adjacent to the Commons on each floor of the Humanities wing, making it easy for the students to access and use the Library Learning Commons (LLC) and the Alternative Physical Education Room. The Life Skills Café and Store, a job transition and social skills program, is prominently located in the second floor Commons. Other programs and support functions are in the upper LLC, offering quiet space and accommodating the need for discrete access.

Outdoor Education

The grounds design demonstrates the same level of care and consideration to education, community, and wellness that is evident inside the new high school. Green space surrounds the school, making it possible to walk around the building –a big change from before! With the parking consolidated, the front green extends to the adjacent pharmacy and all the way up to the high school building.

Safe outdoor spaces provide breakout areas, access to nature, fresh air, and natural light, and opportunities for innovative educational programming. Three outdoor areas are especially significant in the ways they support inquiry, collaboration, creativity and community. The Amphitheater between the Performing Arts and Athletics wings enables performances, outdoor classrooms, and gatherings. The Green Roof provides space for teaching, relaxing, and social interaction, as do the courtyards. A redesigned Envirogarden in the courtyard between the STEAM and Humanities wings expands the opportunities for engineering and biology experiments, project-based learning, and demonstrations.

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