How to make your school the front porch of the community

Rodriguez Elementary's inner courtyards allow students to participate in outdoor learning in a less public setting
By: | June 11, 2021
Rodriguez Elementary School's inner courtyards allow students to participate in outdoor learning in a less public setting.Rodriguez Elementary School's inner courtyards allow students to participate in outdoor learning in a less public setting.

You cannot park in front of Rodriguez Elementary in San Marcos CISD, a rapidly growing community between Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

That’s because designers of the year-old school, who wanted its front yard and entrance to flow more seamlessly into the surrounding community, put the parking lots on the side.

Schools often serve as neighborhood hubs, and the layout has made Rodriguez Elementary “a front porch to the community,” says Angela Whitaker-Williams, principal of K-12 education at architectural firm Perkins&Will’s Austin Studio.

“A front porch is a place where you invite people in,” Whitaker-Williams says. “It’s the threshold to your door, and this is how that threshold becomes broader.”

The school is located across the street from a park and shares green space with a neighboring community center. The design allows educators to more easily include community members, including parents and local entrepreneurs, in school activities.

“School districts are always looking for more community partnerships,” she says. “If parents are involved, kids are more successful. If business leaders are involved, kids have greater exposure to more possibilities.”

Outdoor learning expansion

The gymnasium and cafeteria are located at the front of the building, so students can easily spill out onto the front yard for fairs and other outdoor activities.

Designers also built the school in an H-shape to create Wi-Fi-equipped, inner courtyards where students can participate in outdoor learning in a less public setting.

The courtyards, which feature a community garden, large cistern and outdoor amphitheater, are designed for students to work in small groups on science, art and other projects, Whitaker-Williams says.