Student Team Tackles Design Challenges at Local School

Gateway Project addresses accessibility of Roxbury’s Higginson K–2

Higginson K-2 Gateway group working. Photo by Molly Chase

Higginson K-2 Gateway group working. Photo by Molly Chase

For a group of Boston Architectural College (BAC) students, Roxbury's Henry L. Higginson K-2 School has become as familiar as their studios and classrooms just a few miles away at the BAC. As part of the Gateway Initiative, students have been on the ground working with the Higginson School's students, parents, faculty, and staff to develop design recommendations for both immediate and long-term improvements to create a more supportive learning environment. Although the school is an inclusive school that educates approximately 200 students with and without disabilities, the aging building does not represent the school's mission of accessibility and inclusion, and it would benefit from an assessment followed by design suggestions.

"So far, we have been inspired to find that despite the design challenges of the existing building and the limited resources available, the staff have adapted very well to their environment and have made the most of it," explained Anna Mezheritskaya, BAC Huxtable Fellow and Bachelor of Architecture candidate. "We hope to provide a few key design recommendations and solutions for the many challenges we have identified in our study."

The BAC's client partner for this project is Higher Ground, a place-based initiative that supports local schools and childcare providers in Boston's underserved communities. The organization has been collaborating with three Boston district schools over the past few years. Students from the BAC's Gateway initiative have been involved in all three—Roxbury's David Ellis K-5 School, Higginson Lewis K-8 School, and now, the Higginson K-2 School.

"Our goal is to bring services to these schools that improve educational outcomes for the children," said Mossik Hacobian, executive director of Higher Ground. "We believe strongly that the condition of the school's facilities can contribute to, or undermine, the children's ability to learn. The condition of the learning environment is a message to the student and an indication of the value we place on the activities that go on inside the facility."

This BAC Gateway project at the Higginson School is generously supported by The Architectural Team (TAT), an award-winning architectural firm based in Chelsea, MA. In addition to being a strong supporter of the practice-based learning environment created by the BAC, early education design has been an area of commitment for the firm. They have participated in a number of design programs through the years as a way to reinvest in positive design improvements for our neighborhood youth.

"This particular Gateway project was a natural fit for our support, joining the goals of advancing young architects' educations and skill sets while investing in future learning opportunities for our youngest and most vulnerable community members," said Mark Rosenshein, LEED AP, senior project manager at The Architectural Team and BAC faculty member overseeing the Gateway project. "I am very excited to provide my support to a project that hopefully benefits a local community organization supporting the children of our city while also encouraging BAC students to think and work like an architectural team."

The project is especially relevant as the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools (BPS), and Mayor Walsh's Education Cabinet launch a 10-year capital upgrade program for all schools in the Boston District. The work of this Gateway team will provide invaluable material to ensure that the Higginson School is considered for inclusion in the first phase of the city's plan. Higher Ground has shared the results of the previous Gateway projects with the Mayor's Office and BPS superintendent, and will share the results of the Gateway team's work at the Higginson K-2 School when it is complete.

"Through our work, I hope that the students and other members of the Higginson Elementary community learn how design and architecture can be practiced in a socially responsible way and serve the needs of real people," Anna concluded.