Author: Melissa Carvell
Event: Site visit to Ohlone Elementary
Time and Date of event: 1:30-3:00pm Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Date of Record: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Tour guide: Karin Forssell (mostly) and Bill Overton, principal
1. The physical layout of the space
During the tour, it struck me that Ohlone has a layout quite similar to the Science and Engineering Quad we saw last week. Large individual buildings mostly surround a central open area. This central area houses the jungle gym, sports areas (asphalt), and a good sized expanse of grass. As for the buildings themselves, most are one story and fairly long and rectangular; these are the buildings that house the classrooms (recall that classes are combined grades k/1, 2/3, and 4/5), main office, and library. At the back corner of the open area is the newest building. This two-story building is for students in grades 4/5, and it was designed to be more eco-friendly by taking advantage of the air, light, etc. All of the classroom doors (on all buildings) face into the central play area which gives the school a sense of openness and community. Finally, there is the Farm! It houses animals, a native habitat, and various scientific instruments, and students visit around once a week. This type of learning environment is very uncommon in elementary schools and fits well into Ohlone’s philosophy of “whole student education” (cognitive, academic, and social-emotional learning). The students have also taken ownership of a space in the Farm called “Redwood City” by engaging in lots of imaginative play (it even has an economy!).
2. People who typically come to the space
As this is an elementary school, the primary group of people using the space is young children. They are at Ohlone to learn academic topics but also social-emotional topics, and the site design reflects this. Many picnic tables are outside the classrooms, and I saw students gathered there working on projects, socializing, and relaxing. The sense of community is very strongly represented in the design.
Additionally, teachers, staff, and aides use the space. The teachers and aides utilize the space for educating their students, but Ohlone’s philosophy is that teachers are more co-learners and facilitators. The staff utilizes the space similarly to the teachers and aides but with different specific duties (administration rather than purely education). A design element relevant here is that the main office is very centrally located and opens (like everything else) onto the central open area. Again, this design contributes to the school’s sense of community.
3. Activities that happen in the space
So many different activities happen at Ohlone during the day! Students attend traditional class, learn outside at the Farm, have lunch, play at recess, and (presumably) visit other locations in the school like the library. Teachers, aides, and staff teach traditional classes, outside classes at the Farm, perform administrative tasks, have lunch, and to some degree monitor recess. Interestingly, Ohlone does not have any bells. Students must be aware of their surroundings to notice their teachers going back inside at the end of recess, and it is emphasized that the students going back in is always a choice and a teachable moment.
4. My reflection
A single thought kept coming back to me, “Am I too old to go here?!” The philosophy and design of Ohlone takes all the things I remember loving about elementary school and expands upon them. Field trips were always fun learning trips outside of the standard classroom, and the Farm allows students this opportunity without leaving the site. Additionally I remember a “reading buddies” program where older students read to younger students, and Ohlone really encourages this in so many ways. Having mixed classrooms invites this “students-teaching-students” mentality into nearly all aspects of learning. The design of the school also contributes to this with the unifying open area in the center. Students go between rooms often. In all, I love the sense of community Ohlone portrays through its physical design and philosophy!