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Behind the Scenes of Brownell Middle School

May 3, 2021
  • K-12 Education

In the new spring issue of Learning by Design magazine, contributing writer Sean O’Keefe describes the city of Gilroy, California, as being at “the intersection of today and tomorrow.”

That’s certainly true of its public schools. In 2018, we began a 3-year initiative in partnership with the Gilroy Unified School District and Aedis Architects to revamp the district’s largest middle school, which O’Keefe profiled in Learning By Design.

School officials, architects and our design specialists began by rethinking what learning could look like. “What if school was like summer camp?

Reimagining Campus and Classrooms

Brownell Middle School in Gilroy was built more than 70 years ago. The school district’s leaders and the team at Aedis agreed that the campus needed to evolve to meet the diverse needs of K-12 students and teachers today.

Aedis hosted teachers, administrators and school staff for a series of design vision workshops where they identified what mattered most in learning spaces. A few themes emerged. Embracing natural exploration was one goal. Participants in the workshops also called for establishing distinct “zones” to serve unique purposes.

Joe Vela, a principal at Aedis, described the layout of the campus to Learning By Design as “clustered groups of buildings along a meandering river.” The design team also prioritized giving students access to nature, fresh air and sunshine, Vela said.

School and district participants gravitated toward author David Thornburg’s archetypal learning spaces: watering hole, mountain top, sandpit, cave and campfire. The “cave” is where students pursue focused, independent exploration. The “watering hole” is where students gather to collaborate and learn socially.

These metaphors resonated with us. Each zone would serve a distinct work style and therefore support students who learn in all kinds of different ways -- something we’re passionate about at KI.

Finding the Perfect Furniture

The design process resulted in learning spaces capable of supporting various teaching styles, student approaches and classroom activities. Oversized garage-style roll-up doors empowered educators to easily move the locus of learning from indoors to outdoors.

To enable such an energetic space, Brownell needed flexible and mobile furniture solutions. That’s where we came in. At KI, we know that every school community has a unique culture of learning and that selected furnishings must complement that culture.

To make sure each product was a fit for Brownell, we furnished three sample classrooms and had the school’s principal and educators test them out. We hosted a training session with Aedis to demonstrate how to rearrange the furniture to accommodate various learning needs. Then we invited students into the sample classrooms and surveyed them on their preferences.

We adhere to this kind of collaborative process with each of our clients. We know that landing on the right mix of flexibility, durability and functional comfort stems from hands-on experience with the furniture -- without any pressure to buy one product or another.

In the end, we outfitted Brownell’s classrooms with furniture solutions that prioritized mobility. School officials appreciated that our Ruckus Collection would give students the freedom to move around, to seamlessly transition from individual to group work and to use the back of the Ruckus chair as an armrest or work ledge. Doni stack chairs on casters, triangular Ruckus post-leg desks, Pirouette Tables and D-shaped Pillar Tables all supported movement through simple design.

Keeping Up with An Evolving World

As Paul Nadeau, Gilroy Unified School District’s director of planning and management, told Learning by Design’s O’Keefe, “The world of K-12 education is evolving rather quickly these days.”

We couldn’t agree more. At KI, we strive to deliver products that will fit our clients’ needs today, tomorrow and years from now.

To learn more about our work at Brownell Middle School, check out the feature article in Learning By Design.


by Bryan Ballegeer  Education Market VP

As KI's VP of Education, Bryan provides KI with research and insight into education. Bryan previously served as the Director of Operations for Success Academy Charter Schools. He has direct experience with collaborative, problem-solving education models along with a passion for service. He holds a Chairman position with Stem For Dance, a non-profit that provides young women of color exposure to STEM-based fields of study. Bryan holds a Master’s in Supply Chain Management from Rutgers University having received his undergraduate degree from Indiana University.


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