Mansfield ISD—Dr. Sarah K. Jandrucko Academy for Early Learners
The new 54,340 sf early learning academy brings museum-level engagement to the school environment. It is 100 percent hands-on learning, incorporating vibrancy and delight into this uniquely defined space. The school is arranged into four pods, each with four interactive learning experiences. The pods also contain a multi-use commons, outdoor courtyard and age-appropriate amenities. All design elements tie directly into curriculum and professional learning.
Designed for 3- to 4-year olds, the academy is scaled and arranged appropriately. Pods connect through a main spine, while teacher work rooms are located in quiet areas. Experiences are play-based, but purposeful, each element ties to curriculum. The exterior blends simple materials with contemporary forms, creating a minimalistic aesthetic. The interior is equal parts serene and full of life. Layers of security and transparency keep students in site without being imposing.
Enhanced value comes from adjacencies that appear simple in execution but are powerful in practice. The symmetric orientation aligns along a main spine, giving students nearly equidistant access to the administrative suite and tornado shelter (multi-purpose gymnasium). A simplified layout reduced program redundancies, and the compact solution makes efficient use of available land, utility cost and long-term ease of maintenance.
The district has a long-standing Energy Star rating and wanted the design to reflect this standard. Materials were selected for durability and ease of maintenance. Natural light fills corridors and pods, reinforcing growth, energy and wellbeing. LED illumination complements daylighting and can be adjusted to set the tone for a learning experience. Other features include: clerestory windows, DDC controls, ICF walls, white reflective roof and drought-resistant landscaping.
“Full-day Pre-K is traditionally reserved for at-risk students; however, the district wished the academy to serve all students. Ability to host field trips from area elementary schools was designed into the plan. Community programs and camps take place year-round. A parent / community room sits at the entrance within a secure vestibule. Local companies engaged with the district to sponsor experiences, showing support for this critical age and giving students a peek into career paths.”
The school district was committed to early learning; and was considering taking a traditional approach while sensing a need for change. The team visited learning centers that exhibited traditional and hands-on experiences. An idea was born to imagine how experience could shape learning within a school. Traditional was forgotten, and the design team grasped onto the district’s vision to shape a school that broke the mold in Pre-K design.
The academy is more than a place to care for kids. Macro to micro, it draws on curiosity and a sense of community inherent in adults and children. While structured—from thoughtful adjacencies and symmetrical composition to well-defined curriculum—it embraces play, imagination and freedom for educators to design learning to suit personality. It was holistically created, with the intent to impact students, teachers and the community while irreversibly changing the way early learning is expressed.
Star of Distinction Category Winner