If you build it they will come…thoughts on Universal Design

I love the notion of universal design in theory and in practice.  Lately, a number of initiatives at Putman have started to really bloom and I thought it would be worth shining a light on the hopes and the outcomes of some of these projects.  The cool thing about these initiatives is that the original focus was on positive outcomes for one or two students.

  • My amazing VP brought in the Roots of Empathy program.  The hope was to garner a bit of buy in and develop some empathy in one of our more disengaged intermediate students.   The outcome has been the creation of a 20 or so strong student community of learners.  Our one student has become a contributing member of this group and now has many entry points for positive interactions with a healthy social circle.
  • Another amazing teacher started a breakfast club.  The hope was to provide a few students with a healthy start to their day.  The outcome has been more akin to a healthy start for the larger school community.  By 7:50 a wonderful mix of staff and students congregate in our cafeteria.  Our chief custodian acts both as lead coffee maker and cafe d.j.  The founding teacher plays quarterback and organizes her group of volunteer staff and students to feed the masses.  Staff wander in and out to socialize with students and pour themselves a cup of coffee.  Students swing in for a muffin (homemade by another spin-off group started at the breakfast club) and a glass of milk as they congregate at the tables to work on projects and socialize.  A project originally intended for a few has become a wonderful part of the Putman school culture.
  • I will write in more detail about the Putman Creative Labs at a later date but for the purposes of this post I will provide a summary.  The hope of the lab was to create an organic space where students could come together, use school equipment, and create.  The only condition laid out for this open space was that students needed to be creating.  It was not a space to work on homework but a space to explore and create.  The original hope was to bring together a handful of students.  The outcome of the project has far surpassed our original expectations.  The Creative Labs are responsible for the birth of hundreds of comics, dozens of podcasts, 2 early stage rock’n roll bands, a photography club (with professional photographer as mentor), at least 2 movies in production and more.  The kids are learning from each other and building their own capacities for skill sets that are transferable to the classroom.  Although we haven’t been keeping stats, I would estimate that almost 3/4 of the school has come to the Creative Labs.

I would love to hear more stories of universal design in action!


About ottawabrent

Principal of a Middle School in Ottawa, Ontario Canada
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