Image by Kyle Jeffers
The learning suites offer up a variety of breakout and collaboration spaces.

Multistudio Introduces Flexible Learning to the Underserved

Oct. 9, 2023
The Michelle Obama School is building up not just its students but also the community thanks to the San Francisco firm's inclusive design and development approach.

In just a few short years, Richmond, Calif.’s Michelle Obama School has become the beating heart of this community since its ribbon cutting in 2020, with facilities to enrich the lives of not just the students but their parents, families and neighbors as well. Students grades K-6 began to occupy its spaces in the fall of 2022.

Multistudio banded together with the school district and this historically underserved community to develop programming and a design vision that would provide what they dubbed a “whole child, whole community,” approach that includes three project-based learning suites and spaces such as the Parent Room and the Multipurpose Room & Dining Commons that provide constant connections back to the neighborhood’s children and continuing education opportunities that strengthen the family unit (and by extension a student’s mind and confidence.)

The suites support learner variability which is a core tenet of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The range of spaces let students engage with each other and the material in whatever way is most conducive to their abilities and lived experiences. Each suite consists of a commons area for homeroom and breakout learning; a maker lab; teachers’ conference room and collaboration space; several collaboration zones supported by a mobile library; dedicated restroom; access to outdoor learning space; full-height floor-to-ceiling whiteboards and tackable boards that encourage expression. There are also operable partitions that can be used to meet certain public health regulations that might arise, preventing the class from going hybrid. To support families as well as their children, the school offers a program called “Parent University” that includes ESL classes, tax filing assistance and parenting workshops, hosted in the community room and library that has movable partitions to accommodate both small and larger workshops. It also features storefront doors that open up to a small plaza for afterhours events and can host up to 40 people. But the true powerhouse is the 4000-sq.-ft. Multipurpose Room & Dining Commons—a mass timber structure that has 20 ft. ceilings and two operable glass garage doors that open to an outdoor dining plaza. The MPR hosts breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily for the students. It can host up to 560 people for events and is equipped with a warming kitchen and community kitchen.
Predominantly Latinx, 64% of the residents speak English as their second language and 51% of households qualify as low-income. Before the school redesign, the district had no public amenities, outdoor space or a library. So making use of the available shared spaces within for more than just school function was vital to the health of the community.

While the design team is still developing a Post Occupancy Evaluation process to glean lessons from the design and apply them to future projects, the message from the Michelle Obama School was clear: it’s the local pride and joy, helping students and all residents alike to soar.

About the Author

AnnMarie Martin | Editor-in-Chief

AnnMarie has been covering the commercial design space since 2005 and has been on the editorial staff at i+s since 2011. Her style and vision has helped the brand evolve into a thought leader in purpose-driven design and cultural movements shaping the way we live and work. She returned to the role of editor in chief at the start of 2023 and her journalism and fiction writing background have helped to craft bi-monthly issues that don’t just report the latest industry news, but tell a cohesive tale of some of the biggest topics facing designers today.

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