Oklahoma City school to be designed specifically for homeless students
According to CityLab, Positive Tomorrows, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City, has decided to create a campus that is specifically designed to cater to the needs of homeless children. Gary Armbruster, principal architect for the school and a partner at MA+Architecture, the firm which was tasked with creating designs for the school in 2013, told CityLab, “There is no model for this type of school, This is a school where we need to talk to the students… Because in many cases, it’s their home away from home, a place where they feel secure and can have some consistency in their lives. Every room is themed with a home in mind.”
Part of what makes the school unique is that it was designed in part by the students it was designed to serve. It was part of a “dream big” exercise, in which students were encouraged to submit drawings and suggestions they would like to see in their new campus.
Because homeless children typically don’t have a place to host playdates, many of their suggestions referenced “a place to sit with friends,” and the architects met this suggestion by incorporating more spaces both inside and out of the school for students to sit together.
Amy Brewer, Director of Education at Positive Tomorrows, told CityLab, “Our kiddos have nothing that’s their own… If I want to do a Lego project, I can’t leave it out because where I stay tonight may not be where I stay tomorrow. Sometimes they’re just like turtles in their shells when they need just a moment.”
In 2017, the Oklahoma City Public School District reported that it had 5,031 homeless children enrolled. However, Brewer thinks that the number may actually be closer to 10,000, pointing to the difficulties in measuring a homeless population.
Positive Tomorrows does not enjoy a lot of government support but received $5 million from a New Market Tax Credits program, and was able to raise an additional $10 million from the Oklahoma City community.
Many of the children at Positive Tomorrows have mothers in a program called ReMerge, which helps pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration. A single donor gave $2 million in hopes that Positive Tomorrows would be built alongside ReMerge, hoping it helps the mothers of the children to spend more time with them.
Armbruster has his own hopes for the potential outcome of the school. “This is a place where they know they are safe,”he told CityLab. “A place where they will learn and not be judged for how they look, what they wear, where they live or who they are. Here, they are all kids.”