On Sept. 8, all four major national networks televised the XQ Super School Live program promoting learning by doing, focusing on the future, and solving real world problems. Justin Timberlake, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ringo Starr were headliners among 45 stars endorsing the new learning philosophy. Viola Davis and Julius Tennon co-produced the show with education nonprofit XQ Institute and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to encourage rethinking high school education.
Coinciding with the XQ television event was the grand opening of Houston’s Furr High School Institute for Innovative Thinking, one of 10 XQ Super School winners with a $10 million prize attached to advance its proven teaching methods. Opening was delayed by two weeks due to Hurricane Harvey’s more than 50 inches of rain over four days and sustained 79 mph winds belting Houston’s buildings and neighborhoods. During Furr’s project scoping, the Community Advisory Team requested Texas-based ERO Architects design a facility that was a 24/7 community center and safe haven from storms as well as provide a clinic, day care, adult education, life skills training, vocational education for higher-paying skilled labor jobs within the community, and college-ready learning.
ERO’s building and drainage design withstood Hurricane Harvey. Building orientation, profile, roofing design, modern materials, coordinated structural and architectural design, holistic approach from site drainage to green strategies all played into its survival. ERO’s specialized knowledge of harsh climates and 3-D design tools facilitated development of a precise model accurately replicating the buildings’ physical performances.
“I was worried to death because most of the East End flooded,” said Dr. Bertie Simmons, school principal. “We never got a drop of water in the school at all. I was amazed and I thought it would have flooded, but it didn’t and people tell me a lot of it has to do with the way it was designed.”
District Superintendent Richard Carranza echoed Simmons’ thoughts. “Furr sustained historic weather with no damage, so I think that speaks to the design of the building but more importantly it speaks to the thoughtfulness about the building,” he said. “We may have to rethink going forward about the design of newer schools here.”
ERO’s design withstood XQ evaluation also. Furr High School is a 21st century high school lauded as exceptional and thoughtful.
“ERO worked well with us,” Simmons said. “We worked as a family. They found ways to include a clinic, community center, and a Newcomers Center. They have worked diligently with us to implement an ID Scanner so that we are able to enter our school on a flexible schedule. We would not have been able to win (XQ) without ERO.”
Eli R. Ochoa, managing partner and CEO of ERO, noted the alignment of his firm’s design philosophy with XQ Super School’s values.
“Our embrace of our South Texas roots has taught us how to respect other community’s land, people, and history,” he said. “This is the prominent component of our design approach and it reflects our sensitivity to taking a holistic view of each project so that our clients and members of the community become partners in planning and development. The values of XQ confirm that our effort to incorporate learnable, teachable, and communal components into our designs is the right pathway forward for schools. ERO’s design of Furr High School embodies all that is known about current strategies in educational achievement. ERO exceeded expectations and created a collaborative learning environment for an educational approach combining rigorous academics with hands-on, real-world experiences.”
“It’s (Furr) a welcoming space, the space is beautiful, but mainly the people are so excited and animated, you can tell they just want to be here,” Carranza said. “A space is supposed to allow people to be who they are and students should have a space commensurate with their dreams.”
Simmons agreed. “Everybody is saying this the most beautiful building on this side of town and it’s the most functional one. I went in and saw some of the classrooms and was really amazed by the furniture and technology and how it relates to better teaching. The outdoor learning spaces are beautiful and the kids can’t wait to get out there and work in groups. It’s what we’re talking about — giving kids choices and a voice. People who come in here are just blown away.”
Needless to say, ERO and its entire design and construction team are proud of this new high school.