In a previous post, I discussed some of the physical characteristics we have found to be important in the design of school “public” spaces – those libraries and common areas in a school where a wide range of formal and informal interactions occur for both students and the larger school community. A recent article in The Atlantic describes a study that digs much deeper into one specific activity within these school spaces: eating.
This article provides a solid summary of IDEO’s work with the San Francisco public schools in rethinking their school food program. This work has received a great deal of press and many accolades for its comprehensive and innovative look at what a school lunch experience can and should be.
The study focuses on improving the quality of the EXPERIENCE of eating in school and identifies 4 Student Centered Values: Senses Stimulated (Students are delighted by the food experience), Feeling Valued (Students feel our commitment to their needs and overall well-being), Connected to Food (Students experience the value of food in their daily lives and are curious to know more), and Active Voices (Students are empowered to impact the system, embracing roles and responsibilities).
The study also identifies some real changes that can be made easily within existing facilities to increase participation and improve the eating experience. As such, it is not meant to be a comprehensive set of guidelines for the design of school cafeterias or common areas. Still, several of their recommendations identify changes to the physical characteristics of these spaces that parallel our design thinking – specifically in promoting student agency over their eating experience while providing them a variety of choices in seating, including such things as mobile furniture, connections to the outdoors, the creation of different zones for quiet areas, lounge areas, and more active group areas; and even an Internet Café for doing school work outside of lunch hours.
While I’m on the subject of schools and food, there is another excellent example of a comprehensive approach to the subject that is worth spending some time with. The Buckingham County Primary and Elementary School in Dillwyn, Virginia, by VMDO Architects (nice video here). This project was designed as part of a comprehensive effort to address the growing concern of student health and well being from a holistic perspective, including an understanding of the dining experience as an educational opportunity and incorporation of healthy eating and nutrition into the curriculum and everyday life of the school. This project was undertaken with public health faculty at the University of Virginia that resulted in a document titled Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture.
Each of these projects presents a tantalizing (mouth-watering?) glimpse of the future of school lunches. And that future is happening now.