Don’t Add, Multiply–Community Schools and Colocation

A week ago I spoke at ABX–the Architecture Boston Expo and fell in love with a project I learned about in one of other sessions. It’s endearingly called ‘Codman²’ (pronounced ‘Codman Squared’) and it’s a new spatial and organizational model–a school and a health clinic located in the same building.

I remember a few years ago the dialogue on ‘Community Schools.’ I came across the term while working at an architecture firm that was invited to interview for a new community school in Emeryville. The vision for the school was bold: Emeryville is a small city tucked in between Berkeley, Oakland and the San Francisco Bay, and in some ways it was a ‘wild wild west’ of the Bay Area. In the context of the red tape-filled planning climate of most Bay Area cities, Emeryville had much less regulation. Companies took advantage of this and organizations like Novartis and Pixar–with its private 22-acre campus located in the city….

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A week ago I spoke at ABX–the Architecture Boston Expo and fell in love with a project I learned about in one of other sessions. It’s endearingly called ‘Codman²‘ (pronounced ‘Codman Squared’) and it’s a new spatial and organizational model–a school and a health clinic located in the same building.

I remember a few years ago the dialogue on ‘Community Schools.’ I came across the term while working at an architecture firm that was invited to interview for a new community school in Emeryville. The vision for the school was bold: Emeryville is a small city tucked in between Berkeley, Oakland and the San Francisco Bay, and in some ways it was a ‘wild wild west’ of the Bay Area. In the context of the red tape-filled planning climate of most Bay Area cities, Emeryville had much less regulation. Companies took advantage of this and organizations like Novartis and Pixar–with its private 22-acre campus located in the city.

The city’s daytime population, if I remember correctly, was more than double its nighttime population. And although there was serious wealth in the city, among city residents were significantly sized underprivileged populations, many families with kids, who weren’t seeing the benefit of that wealth.

The idea behind community schools was originally to look at the larger contexts that help students succeed in schools–access to health services, housing services, parents involved in and supportive of their educations. The idea was that if services that provided that ‘scaffolding’ were offered in or near schools, or schools became hubs for additional services, students could be supported more holistically and busy parents would get to be more present in their children’s school lives when they came in to access needed services.

The Emeryville city government envisioned a community school for its students with an additional layer–what if the school could bring the talent flowing in and out of its city every day into the institution as well? What if the school could create a draw for those professionals to get involved in the life of the city, the life of the school and the lives of the students, creating mentorship and internship opportunities? How could a community school create deeper exchanges between workers and residents than were currently occurring in the city?

Although our firm ultimately didn’t win the project, I worked on it tirelessly, researching other precedents late into the night and assembling ideas, strategies and arguments to feed my firm principals. I left that firm not soon after for another job, but the idea of that project stuck with me, and a quick google search reveals it’s still happening. Whether the goals have been changed, I don’t know.

At Codman,² both the health clinic and the school are ridiculously proactive about the lives of their members. Whether its group sessions at the clinic that look at the larger community and relational contexts of patients’ lives, or the school, in which students began taking traffic data to fuel a campaign for traffic calming around the school.

Codman² is a community school, but in addition to the benefits of health services access in the school, the partnership has more intangible benefits–students at Codman Academy get to see adults of color every day, serving in professional capacities, and serving their communities.

I walked out of that talk inspired and the feeling hasn’t left me. Community building is hard–there are so many fronts to build on, and just working on one issue is tough because context matters. But when resources are tight how do you get more bang for your energy?  Codman² has got me thinking, don’t add, multiply.

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