Legat Architects, Henricksen, and Chicago Bulls College Prep Join Forces in Pro Bono Project to Prove Learning Environments Matter

Over 20 Chicago-area firms have donated their products and services to transform three classrooms at Chicago Bulls College Prep. The renewed classrooms will be monitored to determine how the changes impact student performance.

Chicago, IL, September 20, 2010 --(PR.com)-- “If it’s good enough for when I went to school, then it’s good enough for these kids.” An oft-repeated sentiment in the educational community. This summer, Noble Street Charter School, Henricksen, and Legat Architects, Inc. have set out to topple that mindset.

Over the last three weeks, three classrooms at Chicago Bulls College Prep have undergone a transformation. Over 20 Chicago-area firms (architects, interior designers, contractors, distributors, and manufacturers) donated their products and services to make it happen. What united them was the belief that physical learning environments impact student performance.

On Wednesday, Chicago Bulls College Prep unveiled the revitalized classrooms in its 3rd floor space at 2040 W. Adams Street. Gone are the old linoleum tiles, colorless walls, and bulky desks. In their place are carpet tiles, vibrant colors, and flexible furniture. New lighting, interactive boards, and improved acoustics strengthen the focus on learning.

One Theory of Change Supports Another
The effort, called “Flip This Classroom,” required no new construction. However, Henricksen and Legat Architects organized the project to take it beyond a purely cosmetic makeover. Patrick Brosnan, president/CEO of Legat Architects, said, “The goal is to demonstrate that a small investment in classroom flooring, lighting, wall finishes, acoustics, display boards, technology, and most important, flexible furniture, will create an agile, high-performance environment for teaching and learning.”

Located just a thousand feet from the United Center, the home of the storied team whose name it bears, Chicago Bulls College Prep is the newest campus of the Noble Street Charter School. The Noble Network has its own "theory of change": that providing low-income students with a world-class education and helping them to graduate college will positively impact their lives, families, and communities for generations to come.

Tyson Kane, Chicago Bulls College Prep principal, said, “My expectation is that the renewed classrooms will help boost focus, increase performance, and ultimately enable us to better prepare our students for college and beyond.”

How Flip This Classroom Started
Flip This Classroom began when a national coalition of educational planners and designers called America’s Schoolhouse Council (ASC) set out to test the theory that learning environments support student success. Its nine member firms, including Chicago-based Legat Architects, orchestrated a flip of three classrooms at an elementary school in a New York suburb. One year later, the district’s yearly analysis revealed an eight to ten percent increase in performance for students within those classrooms.

Legat Architects took the program home to Chicago, creating a partnership with Henricksen, a regional furniture dealership, to see if they could achieve similar results in an urban setting.

Kane and his staff will monitor student progress in the renewed rooms at Chicago Bulls College Prep to determine how the flip affects student achievement, behaviors, and attitudes.

In Step with Learning Styles
Flip This Classroom is grounded in the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model of Instruction, which states that every child learns differently.

The renewed classrooms at Chicago Bulls College Prep respect these differences. For example, the traditional classroom has many hard surfaces that reflect sound. This can be very distracting to certain learners. In the flipped rooms, carpet tiles and a sound masking system absorb sound and increase focus.

The new furnishings also support different learning styles. SMARTLINK desks, donated by HON, can be arranged to fit the lesson plan whether the need is for individual work, group collaboration, or teacher-centered layouts.

Dull white walls have reawakened as a soft warm white, while a vibrant accent color defines teaching walls in each room. The colors energize the space, and help students focus on the teacher. Lively carpet tiles replace faded and chipped hard floors. The Chicago Bulls theme room features desks with red chairs, and charcoal-colored carpeting tiles highlighted with red stripes.

Donated interactive marker boards offer hands-on interaction and media-rich lessons. Roller shades allow for control of light coming into the rooms, while still allowing outdoor views. New ballasts and bulbs improve lighting so students can focus better.

A Model Classroom for a New Generation
Henricksen and Legat Architects estimate the total value of donated products and services at over $250,000. “This experience has allowed us to give back to our city and invest in its future,” said Mark Dalton, Henricksen director of business development. “In the long run, we want to develop a classroom model that supports student success, and is based on empirical evidence.”

“Too often, aged facilities and old equipment are considered adequate,” adds Brosnan. “The US has a huge stock of outdated classrooms. They’re no longer good enough. This is a new generation, and it requires a new learning environment.”

Legat Architects, Inc.
Douglas J. Ogurek