New school build provides safe spaces for students to work and play

Issue: Volume 97, Number 10

Posted: 8 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9j8Q

“It’s the holes in our hearts that make us do the things we shouldn’t and not do the thing we should” (student). It might seem a bit of a stretch to think of a building playing a small part in patching up those holes; that a new school building could help restore and grow positivity. But that’s what Halswell Residential College has experienced with its new residential school build. The school’s senior leadership team talk about their rebuild.

The new residential school buildings are light, spacious and in muted colours.

Buildings are not simply objects, they’re places. And a sense of place can positively affect the physical, social, emotional and ecological health of everyone who experiences it.

As Associate Principal (Residential), Jon Purdue says, “Wellbeing is the key. If you’re not feeling safe and comfortable, that’s not a good grounding for learning.”

Providing the opportunity for people to develop a sense of place is not a magical, mysterious or accidental process. Any school build can intentionally incorporate intuitive and tangible aspects that contribute to a sense of place.

Sensory considerations

For the students at Halswell Residential College (and others in mainstream settings), the sensory experience is one tangible aspect of any place. Many students at Halswell have sensory needs and are highly reactive.

The one thing you notice most when you walk into one of the residential buildings is the sense of being grounded and encased by solid, steady materials and well-ordered and defined spaces. They are also light, spacious and in muted colours.

“Great care was taken over sensory needs,” says the college’s House Manager, Ken Joblin. “It’s not echoey. We paid extra to soundproof the bedrooms, which are double-studded to help prevent noise transfer.”

Decortech ply was used in the living areas of the four stand-alone houses. There are eight bedrooms in each building – four at each end with a communal kitchen, lounge and dining area in the middle. Each toilet and bathroom is shared by two students.

“We did struggle to find that balance between open site lines for supervision and having privacy and quiet spaces,” says Jon.

“We went through various iterations, from open barn to separate rooms and camera systems.”

The decision to go with individual bedrooms has reduced anxiety in the students and given them a sense of belonging, pride and ownership of their space. Previously up to 20 students were housed in two semi-private dorms with fabric sliding doors. There was no sound or light privacy. The new facilities are intentionally warm and welcoming, less institutional and give students a sense of coming home.

“Sometimes I miss my family, but this house feels nice and homely. I really love my bedroom. It’s real nice and I am getting more photos from home to put on the pin board in my room. I am learning to do my own washing. The other night I cooked a meal. I made toasties. It’s cheerful here and it is great how I get to meet new people and do activities. I’ve got some goals around improving my behaviour and making friends and although I’ve only been here a few weeks, I am getting there already.” - Nikita

Play and leisure

The buildings are set around a play and leisure area, which includes basketball, skateboarding and bike riding areas. A multi-purpose learning centre stands off to the side.

Halswell Residential College has experienced a growth in positivity due to its new residential school build.

The central hub created by the play and leisure area intentionally draws students into shared play and communal activities. “Having this area separate from the school play area provides clear demarcation between being at school and being at home,” says Associate Principal Anne Askey. “This is less institutional and contributes to mental and emotional wellbeing.”

The buildings and surrounds are not only in service to the students’ wellbeing and ability to engage with learning. Staff, too, benefit from the ambience of the new surroundings.  Associate Principal Greg Young says the new build is “more conducive to being like a family”.

“Staff feel like they are in a family rather than like they are working in an institution.”

And that’s where the magic happens – from buildings being simply objects to being conscious constructions that help restore and grow positivity. The magic happens, says the school’s leadership team, because everyone is relaxed in the new spaces. The oppositional behaviours decrease when the students and adults are relaxed and trust each other and when there is enough “liking” between them.

And despite being away from home and struggling with a multiplicity of difficult life experiences and diagnoses, there’s plenty of “liking” from the students for their home away from home.

Halswell Residential College provides special education within a residential setting for up to 32 students aged seven to 17 years. The college became coeducational at the beginning of 2017.

The new buildings and surrounds are in service to the student and teacher wellbeing.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:22 pm, 8 June 2018

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