School of the Future

The name itself was a brash declaration: School of the Future. Its location was just as audacious. Of all the places in the country, this gritty area of west Philadelphia was the last place you’d expect to make such a bold statement.

Yet last September, there it was: a 162,000-square-foot marvel of By Naomi Dillon
architectural and pedagogical synergy between the Philadelphia School District and software conglomerate Microsoft. And there everyone else was, curious about what the future was supposed to look like and skeptical about how a school system with a history of poor performance, student violence, and disparity could possibly be the one to usher it in.

The future, as it is, looks remarkably like the workplace, except for a few otherworldly touches. Take away the clever gadgetry like the lockerless lockers and the student-issued smartcards, which enable faculty to track things like food intake and physical activity. Ignore the environmentally progressive rooftop water “catchment” system and the photovoltaic panels in the windows. Look beyond the book-free library and the rotating theater alcoves and you’ll find a facility that feels very much like a place of employment, albeit, a 21st century one. That’s not a mistake. Nor is it unique.

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