From Student Support to Student Success

Strategic Interventions for the PPSD


Advanced Studio

Learning Systems: Alternate Spatial Practices

Critic Manuel Cordero-Alvarado

Spring 2020

Rhode Island School of Design, Department of Architecture

Public education is a cornerstone of our society. The decisions we make about what and how we teach reflect and form the basis of democratic society. School buildings innately shape this learning, yet teachers, students, parents, and even designers must frequently operate within a restrictive planning and design frameworks that minimizes their expertise. The marginalization of important stakeholders results in facilities that ignore the realities of current pedagogical practice, social and racial dynamics, community context, and social-emotional supports.

After the articulation of a master plan for the Providence Public Schools District (PPSD), this trans-scalar project aims to address issues of short and long term student support within public schools in Providence. Informed by pedagogical research, urban analyses and the PPSD masterplan, this spatial proposal articulates an attitude to the context of the district and its educational facilities- urban, educational, and socio-cultural.

A \ Research + Master Plan

In June 2019, Johns Hopkins University's Institute for Education Policy published the report Providence Public School District: A Reviewwhich identified five core issues within the PPSD and its day to day operations:

  • PPSD has an exceptionally low level of academic instruction, including a lack of quality curriculum and alignment both within schools and across the district;

  • School culture is broken, and safety is a daily concern for students and teachers;

  • Beyond these safety concerns, teachers do not feel supported;

  • School leaders are not set up for success and 

  • Parents are marginalized and demoralized.

Starting from the considerations made in this report, and by examining extensive data sets for PPSD schools, a comprehensive masterplan proposal for PPSD schools was articulated. Focusing on student support services, the master plan examined possibilities expressed both as spatial and systemic interventions to address PPSD shortcomings.

This master plan proposal for the PPSD, developed in collaboration with Kiran D'Souza, is grounded in six core principles:


The Master Plan is focused on ensuring PPSD Students are at the center of all discussions concerning PPSD Facilities and Programs, using an ad-hoc community engagement protocol to foster active citizenship and interest in the System’s operations.


The Master Plan transcends preconceived scales of planning, and its scopes range from the Providence Public Schools District as a whole to Scholastic Micro-communities and even Departments/Divisions within Schools.


The Master Plan is built on the idea that Student support (and a complete re-definition of its meaning and importance) is paramount for student success.


The Master Plan is sited in the Providence Public Schools District, and not only in the City of Providence. The site of this Master Plan is a system, not a plot of land alone.


The Master Plan aims to implement student and broader community opportunities for service and social-emotional learning, focused on providing insights into issues such as active citizenship and food security/nutrition access.


The Master Plan is also interested in critically examining and redefining the metrics used to define “success” within the PPSD, acknowledging that nowadays schools are tasked with additional obligations on top of educating students.

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[Above] In order to better address the issues of each school facility in Providence, and to better distribute funds to areas that need them the most, the master plan proposes to divide schools into geographic micro communities. Each school micro community aims to centralize student support resources such as parks, community centers, and school sports facilities in order to ensure funding can be distributed based on the specific needs of each cluster. The micro-communities are proportioned so that each community has a mix of school types (elementary, middle, and high) as well as a roughly equally sized student population..


Intervention A

Design and construction of outdoor teaching areas such as gardens/greenhouses or connection of school facility to existing community gardens/urban farms willing to host academic programming and events.


Intervention D

Design and construction of new enclosed communal gathering spaces such as media centers, libraries and multipurpose rooms. Intervention targets schools with a minimum >150% LEA reported capacity


Intervention B

Complete redesign of food production and service areas, with a dual focus on space capacities and educational/student support moments. Separate food service spaces from other communal areas (eg auditoriums, stages, ...) to ensure communal space availability is proportional to population.


Intervention E

Design and construction of new and improved student support services, ranging from health provider offices to counseling and emotional support services. Aim is ensuring a more transparent and natural connection between students and the support systems made available to them.


Intervention C

Renovations/upgrades of instructional spaces. Selection criteria for first round of implementation include schools built before the 1990s (i.e. not with 21st Century learning styles in mind) and less than 15% proficiency in math.


Intervention F

This intervention, which involves full building renovation and the potential for the construction of additions, targets intervention types A, B, C, D and E, and is mainly thought of for school facilities with a 5 Year FCI of 55% or above.

*Non-district charters are excluded 

[Above] The master plan proposes six types of interventions (A-F) which aim to address specific issues identified in each school facility. Whilst recognizing the need for interventions to be financially compatible with the PPSD budget, they aim to target both instructional and student support/gathering spaces, and are thought of as able to incorporate community engagement and participatory planning processes in all phases of the project. The graphic above details the specifics of these interventions and eligibility criteria for school facilities.

B \ Strategic Sited Intervention

Following the articulation of the PPSD master plan above, the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal were spatially tested on an elementary school part of the PPSD facilities portfolio. This strategic intervention proposal for a KG-5 school in Lower South Providence is focused on the centralization of student support services, the development of a new food production and distribution system and the implementation of outdoor learning to strengthen SEL (social-emotional learning) and SL (service learning) curricular integration.


[Above] The elementary school chosen for this strategic intervention, located in Lower South Providence, is at the heart of a neighborhood with little shared communal spaces and areas for community gatherings. The drawing above highlights the school building (in pink) and neighboring open space that is either currently part of the school's educational program or could be incorporated in the school's pedagogical activities.


[Above] Identification of existing architectural barriers to the implementation of the new educational program.


[Above] During the planning phase of the project, both repurposing/renovating and ex-novo construction were considered as options, identifying different on-site opportunities for these scenarios. After careful consideration of the Facility FCI for Esek Hopkins Middle School, alongside the programatic and didactic demands of the project, Proposal A (renovation of an existing classroom space and re-programming of SCLT community garden) was selected.


Phase One: Principles


Six core principles for the reconfiguration of educational facilities are established via master planning and FCA (facility conditions assessment) interpretation 

Phase Two: Strategic Intervention


The six principles are approached and tested on one pilot school, and via community engagement and data collection the success of the project is measured and reported

Phase Three: District Implementation


Once the project is completed on the pilot school, and its successes and shortcomings are assessed, a revised version of the project can be deployed on other similar facilities in the District

[Above] The intervention proposed is envisioned as a part of a multi-step process to deploy spatial interventions addressing the six core areas of the master plan across the whole PPSD.

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[Above] The newly proposed ground floorplan of the school, featuring both reimagined existing spaces and a new multi-level addition that incorporates 21st Century pedagogical spatial practices in the daily life of the building. 


[Above] The newly proposed second floor of the school increases the number of instructional spaces and also allows for the creation of small pockets of space for collaborative work or academic coaching when necessary. 


[Above] The main entrance to the school acquires added importance via the programmatic reconfiguration of the building, as it now allows students and their families to enter the building at the intersection of the academic and student support wings, communicating a sense of belonging, care and, above all, respect for students and their needs. 


[Above] The relationship between indoor and outdoor instructional spaces is reinforced in the project by placing strategic openings at the intersection of instructional spaces and the new outdoor didactic gardens. The outdoor instructional spaces acquired added visibility from classrooms and communal spaces, stimulating student curiosity and involvement regarding programs taking place in these areas.


[Above] The new double height space provides additional areas for community gatherings to happen, both within academic and community engagement contexts. Designed to be repurposed and reprogrammed multiple times daily, it envisions the introduction of furniture on wheels to allow ease of reconfigurability.


[Above and Below] Alongside the articulation of deferred maintenance plans for PPSD Facilities, this renovation and remodeling plan also proposed models for new PBL (Project-Based Learning) spaces to be implemented in the renovation process of PPSD schools. This example showcases a mixed-use classroom for the integration of a community gardening component in an elementary school’s science curriculum aligned to NGSS.


[Above] Through cost-effective architectural interventions the existing school building is re-programmed and re-purposed to fit 21st Century educational needs and to further integrate state and nationwide developments both in curriculum and student support services.