Five years ago, Wouw began planning a new children’s center in Wouw. School principal Rini Damen and his team were looking for a different type of education, but needed time to crystallize new ideas. But the ‘traditionally framed’ design and construction process was already knocking on the door. Therefore, HEVO and the school board went in search of an alternative process, where space was created for the development of the education concept and the school building by letting go of the tight building framework.
‘KPO Child Center De Stappen in Wouw is in no way reminiscent of a traditional school. No corridors, no classrooms, but a large, bright open space with many playful elements, such as a climbing wall staircase. There are places where children are taught together, quiet corners where they can work themselves, and places to work together. Instructor Rini Damen: ‘We wanted to get rid of the classic school system. Not all children of the same age have the same level, and we want to give each child individual attention. We did not yet know exactly how to shape this new pedagogical vision. As we started the construction process, the slider moved more and more to the right: from classroom teaching to a system that takes into account children’s talents. That’s why we also wanted spaces that allow for a flexible way of teaching. ‘
Five years ago, De Stappen’s pedagogical vision had not yet crystallized, but the program and the design process were already underway. Wouter Houët, senior consultant, and Arthur van Kempen, senior project manager, believed that there should still be room in the design phase to make adjustments and to further develop the new training concept. Arthur van Kempen: ‘The Stappen Children’s Center was the inspiration for HEVO’s My School concept. In this concept, we do not go step by step from a Schedule of Requirements to the design phase and then to the construction phase, but we organize a process that is much more formless. In the design phase of De Stappen, we showed the school team what is possible. The team members were technically involved in the possibilities and potential, have visited references and we have provided insight into what materials and building fittings can be worked with. By imagining things, new insights arise. ‘
‘A new school building is the perfect time for educational innovation,’ says Kees Mens, school administrator at KPO. “It is also necessary because there are too few staff and we like to give children individual attention. Not everyone on the De Stappen team was immediately enthusiastic about the new vision for education that would result in a school building without classrooms. We visited the jenaplan school De Spaaihoeve in Eindhoven, a school that also works with an open concept. When we saw how the teaching took place there, and we heard the enthusiastic stories from the teachers, everyone was in favor of the new form of teaching and working in an open space. ‘
The world of education is conservative, but here everyone is very enthusiastic! KEES MENS, PRINCIPAL KPO
The children are flourishing
KPO set up a fund so that it can also offer childcare in addition to regular education. This means that children from zero to twelve years can walk on De Stappen. The advantage is that the teaching staff can follow the children from an early age.
In primary school, work is done in units. Children aged four to six sit together in a unit, as do children aged seven to ten and children aged eleven and twelve. A day starts with a meeting in the tribal group that the child is in. Then it is discussed what the children should do that day, and then the teacher explains the lesson material. Some children then move to another group in their unit to attend classes appropriate to their level. Then the children get started: independently or with others.
Rini Damen: ‘At first glance it may seem chaotic, but the education is more tightly organized than when it is taught in a classroom. We also have a much better picture of the kids because we are looking at a student with all the teachers on one unit. The unit team discusses the children and the classes half an hour after each working day. The teachers are happy that it is finally again about education and not about administration, group plans and how busy it is. I expect that this way of teaching will reduce the workload in the long run. We already feel that the children are flourishing. We recently had parents’ evening, and we heard from all sides that the children are coming home very excited. They are happier, talk more and are more motivated. That is nice to hear.’
A school of wood
De Stappen is also very innovative in the field of sustainability. During the design process, HEVO was given room for more ambition. Arthur van Kempen: ‘This is surface sustainability!’ The starting point was to achieve a sustainability score of GPR 7.5, in the end a score of 8.2 was achieved by focusing on more sustainable use of materials. The whole school, with the exception of the steel columns, is made of wood.
Kees Mens: ‘In the beginning we were a little hesitant about so much wood. Doesn’t it get very noisy when three hundred children are taught? Therefore, a lot has been invested in the acoustics, with a great result. Here is peace. De Stappen is KPO’s most innovative school in terms of construction concept and teaching method. We have 21 schools, 10 of which need a new building. You can bet all these principals and school teams are curious about this concept and come to see. The world of education is conservative, but when they walk around here and talk to the teachers, it does not surprise me when they get wildly excited. The steps will act as a flywheel. ‘