Friday, March 28, 2014

School Reception Desks & Intimidation: Seeing a School through Student Eyes

School can be an intimidating experience for students. The first days and weeks of a school year, whether we’re talking about the student’s first day of school ever, at the beginning of a new school year, or in a new school after moving, can be particularly intimidating and even scary events in the life of a student.

It’s important that a school’s design not contribute to this feeling of intimidation. It should, in fact, help mitigate such feelings and facilitate positive interactions with teachers/staff and other students, as well as help students feel welcome. An elementary school’s reception desk provides an example of this.

In an elementary school, the youngest and shortest students should still be able to see over the counter at the reception desk. The design of the reception desk in the image on the left doesn’t allow for this, and provides those students affected with an intimidating and less welcoming experience. For this particular school, it was also an annoyance for those manning the desk in that they have to motion the students to peak around the side or they have to stand up. And that annoyance may be inadvertently felt by the student as well, increasing the negative nature of the interaction.
But at the school in the image on the right, the reception desk has a center section low enough for students, even the youngest and shortest students, to see over and engage the adult on the other side face to face. It encourages the human connection between receptionist and student as opposed to hindering it, and as such, represents the better practice.

As a side note, part of the reason we conduct post occupancy evaluations is to give the occupant a voice and allow us to see the facility through their eyes. As I conducted the analysis after visiting both of these schools, I realized I could have done a better job at showing the school through the eyes of the younger students. None of the photographs were taken from their perspective. Imagine how much more powerful the contrasting images would have been had they been taken from a kindergartner’s eye level perspective.

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