The Project NEXT program at Forest Hills Northern (FHN) High School is a project-based collaborative learning program that began as a pilot initiative in the media center in 2018 with 123 members of the class of 2022. At the time, a modest investment was made in the pilot program by designing and refreshing the school’s media center with new, flexible furniture more conducive to next-generation, collaborative learning. In Project NEXT, students learn the state-required high school curricula in a series of both individual and group assignments throughout their four years at FHN. Additionally, students identify real-world problems and work together throughout the semester to propose solutions.

As the program has grown in its popularity and success, and with the district’s goal to expand the Project NEXT to other schools in the district, this type of learning requires spaces that cater to its needs and goals. Students in the program identify and propose solutions to real-world problems, so spaces that fuel collaboration and creativity are a must. Redesigning the school’s west wing to accommodate those musts started with converting a courtyard into a central learning commons. Clerestory windows and a new roof help make the building more sustainable by minimizing heat gain and maximizing natural light. Next to that space, each grade level has its own classroom pod of four classrooms and a breakout space. The pods can be interconnected for collaboration and co-teaching as needed. Classrooms on the southern side house chemistry, biology, and life skills spaces. On the western edge, a new wood shop and art space tie back to the mission statement of the program and reinforce the importance of project-based, hands-on learning. The art room contains a kiln, wheel-throwing pottery stations, counter-height tabletops, and casework for storing two-dimensional artwork. The workshop space features upgraded mechanical, electrical, and plumbing, some of which is intentionally left exposed on a white ceiling. A new dust collector manages the sawdust from students’ creations. Four more lab spaces, two classroom pods, and a workshop were completed by the end of 2021. The final phases of the project will also include casework, sliding marker board, carpet tile flooring, acoustical ceiling tiles, and accordion doors.

Northern High School Project NEXT

Location Grand Rapids, MI
Size 37,000 sq. ft. Renovation
Status Completed 2021
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