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Do we have to go back to school?

School campuses are reimagined as community centers, learning labs, and co-working space with access through a continuous bus loop.

Photo of Donna Teuber
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Written by

I am a.....

  • Educator and Innovation Consultant

Tell us about your idea


As our team worked on the Meow Wolf remote learning concept, an important question came up - Do we have to go back to school? Looking at how schools around the world are responding to the pandemic, we realize that remote learning and concepts like Forest Kindergarten and expeditionary learning are redefining how we do school. 

The Challenge

But there’s room for improvement. With remote learning, the equity gap has become even greater and relationships have suffered. Our experiences vary greatly depending on family and community support systems. Some students have been isolated in homes with parents who are unable to provide for basic needs like food, rent and wifi access. Students in need (and sometimes in abusive family situations) have had limited access to teachers and school support staff. 

Parents working remotely from home have found it difficult to focus on work when everyone is confined to a small space. Essential workers have struggled to find safe, affordable child care. In fact, traditional school has never met the needs of workers who have 12 hour shifts or evening work. 

As we move forward, these issues will continue. More and more companies are moving to remote work. Recent surveys show that over 40-50% of full-time workers want to continue working remotely. 20% of employers are discussing this option to allow for more flexibility and competition in the global marketplace. How do we meet the needs of remote workers and provide students with the best learning experiences?

The Opportunity

We have a solution that meets the needs of working parents and provides a supportive environment for students to connect with each other, teachers and community mentors. The IRL (In Real Life) Cafe is a hub of connected campuses that addresses issues of equity and builds on learning from the COVID-19 school system. By using existing buildings and resources, we have a scalable solution that bridges the gap between remote learning and real life experiences.

Imagine…Throughout the day, students come and go at an IRL campus to meet with teachers, attend classes led by community members, and use makerspaces. Some students arrive with their parents who use the co-working space. On this particular day, a local artist is setting up an exhibition and meeting with a teacher to develop supporting curriculum resources including an augmented reality component. Everyone is excited for the lunch menu - a local chef is teaching a cooking class and sharing the meal. The outdoor nature center and garden provides everyone with a place to relax and give back. Just another day in real time.

The Details

- Current clusters of schools are reorganized as connected learning and co-working hubs maximizing the use of facilities like cafeterias, science labs, and maker spaces.

- A continuous bus loop (inspired by Google and Facebook campuses) provides teachers, students and parents with access to the centers. Hours of operation extend into the evening to meet the needs of essential workers.

- Students visit IRL to meet with teachers, access resources, attend specialized classes, and enjoy a meal with friends and community members. Each campus has different offerings and students can visit any IRL campus on the loop.

- While many teachers work from home, they take turns staffing the learning spaces to provide support to students. Teachers also use the bus to visit students in their homes and drop off additional resources.

- Businesses sponsor co-working spaces. In exchange, workers sign-up to serve as mentors for students or lead specialized classes. 

- Retirees serve as volunteers and mentors. 

- Artists and designers use space for interactive exhibits and work with teachers to create learning activities for students. 

- Outdoor spaces and gyms are available for a variety of community events and activities.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

The digital divide is getting larger as a result of some students not having access to devices and Internet. Some schools have been able to provide students with devices and robust content in learning management systems while other schools have had to rely on work packets and limited resources. Students are missing connection and relationships with other students and teachers. As we move forward, we need to provide all students with access to a supportive learning environment.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

As an educator and innovation consultant, I specialize in using human-centered design to assist organizations in developing successful programs through team building, strategic planning, and innovation labs. I’m inspired by the superhuman efforts that teachers are putting into remote learning and excited to be part of this movement to reimagine learning.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

I live in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands connected by bridges and surrounded by nature.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gilberto Cardenas

Hello Donna Teuber 
Your idea is very fascinating, what really caught my eye was the ability to make the learning space an environment that brings the community together and is conducive to transforming lives.
You've given me a lot to think about, I haven't heard of the Meow Wolf remote learning. Thank you for sharing.

Photo of Donna Teuber

Thank you for sharing feedback about our idea!

Photo of Donna Teuber

Thank you for your feedback Gilberto Cardenas . It's good to hear that the idea has possibilities for community and connection. I would love to see this idea implemented within a cluster of schools!

Photo of Dawn M

Donna Teuber: I love this idea -- we need to get away from a system that forces all students to follow a strict schedule and curriculum that may not be based upon their learning needs. I was particularly interested in your idea of a continuous bus loop along with multi use of the school space. It would be a solution to multiple problems. What are your thoughts on discipline issues and student safety in such an environment?

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Dawn M Thank you for your feedback. It's good to hear that the idea resonates with you. I'm sure that there will be challenges related to discipline and safety - especially with younger students. I think we could minimize problems using the existing staff that schools have in place. If you think about it, a lot of the discipline issues are related to being late to class, not attending class, getting in flights with classmates, etc. If students have more autonomy in choosing their classes and when they arrive at school, we might have fewer discipline problems. Student safety issues related to transportation and "free time" on the campus could also be minimized using existing staff and procedures. I would love to take this idea to a school design team and brainstorm ideas!