Northwestern Academy Moves Into New Home

Northwestern Academy Moves Into New Home

Northwestern Academy

Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools recently moved into a state-of-the art space overlooking Lake Michigan, a tech-savvy learning environment influenced by the students themselves.

As part of the Academy’s college prep program, more than a dozen Academy students critiqued a variety of sample styles, colors and rooms during a “visioning” session – a planning meeting usually reserved for corporate CEO’s and a few hand-picked stakeholders.

The Academy, a joint initiative under Northwestern's Good Neighbor, Great University program, helps academically motivated, underrepresented students prepare for studying at selective colleges and universities. Involving the teenagers in the renovation process dovetailed with the program’s mission and gave the students a greater sense of ownership, said program director Cassandra Geiger.

“They started to see the investment in their future,” said Cory Kamholz, the project designer and an associate with architectural firm Holabird and Root, which was commissioned to complete the renovation of the former graduate student dorms, located on the 16th floor of Abbott Hall, 710 Lakeshore Dr., in Chicago.

Now in its third year, Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools is at full capacity and will graduate its inaugural class in the fall of 2017. The college access program provides students with personal enrichment, leadership development, college advising and cultural and civic engagement.

Kamholz thought the group might initially be reticent; it was, after all, the first time Holabird and Root held visioning sessions with high school students. Instead, the high schoolers peppered him with insightful comments about what they valued, which included chairs that would let them slouch and neutral, non-distracting colors.

In addition to mulling over a wide range of styles and spaces, including corridors, classrooms and the lobby, the students also donned  hard hats and toured the building as the drywall went up, Kamholz said. They officially moved in during July.

“Part of the goal was to give students a college-like experience so they can hit the ground running,” Kamholz said.

Classrooms designed to foster collaboration

A key feature of the new space is “active learning environments” which encourage collaboration and make it easier for teachers to use technology. Chairs and tables have wheels to foster mobility and each studio is equipped with microphones and high-definition cameras to facilitate video conferencing with familiar tools such as Skype and Google Hangout.

In addition to large and small white boards and document cameras, all of the classrooms are equipped with a high-resolution video wall that allows teachers and students simultaneously show multiple pieces of information, allowing them to compare and contrast.

With the swipe of a hand, students can move information using the touch display on the video wall. Almost any device can connect to the wall to make it easier to share information and student work.

“It’s a giant digital canvas to give teachers and students unparalleled collaboration and presentation capabilities, said Mike Hannen, director of Information Technology at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

“Instructors may want to share multiple documents – videos, photos, or PowerPoint files to illustrate a topic. Or they may display in real time the work of multiple student groups. The main goal is to be as flexible as possible.”

Sarah Schneider, a Northwestern Academy instructor who also teaches at Back of the Yards College Preparatory School, said she enjoyed teaching in the smaller classroom because it was comfortable and intimate.

The tables allowed them to form groups based on the activity and “the ample availability of both whiteboard space -- a necessity in math -- and technology was much appreciated by everyone,” Schneider said.

The bonus? A million-dollar view overlooking Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/1/16