It’s no secret that when schools, parents, families, and communities come together to support learning, students are more motivated and more successful. They attend school regularly, stay in school longer, choose to take harder courses, and earn higher grades. Community support of the educational process is a common thread in all high-performing schools.1
How do you encourage this involvement? Smart school districts are understanding that marketing and branding their unique vision can help them better engage the students, faculty, parents and community. How do you make your neighborhood school stand out from the crowd?
A school’s “brand” isn’t just it’s logo – it illustrates who you are and what you do. Doing branding right can increase school spirit, generate excitement, and increase student participation in academics and extracurricular activities. It helps to tie the school to its community, generating exposure and greater personal and financial support. It helps to create a sense of place and triggers an emotional response from students, staff, parents, alumni and the community. Branding and wayfinding can enrich students and provide positive motivating messages.
DAG Architects has recently had the opportunity to work with two new Florida schools on their branding efforts. In Escambia County, we helped a new middle school establish its own unique brand from the ground up, and in Walton County, a new elementary school will have a brand and wayfinding system reflecting the school’s diverse ecological environment.
For Beulah Middle School in Pensacola, there were two different types of “brands” that our design team dealt with. First, we focused on the inspiration for the school’s environment as a whole—a “cultural brand” that would be used throughout the campus. We started with the concept of a “park,” growing out of the columnar form of the pine trees on the site and the fact that parks are places that allow everyone to gather, connect and recharge. Parks encompass both quiet, peaceful and intimate spaces with larger, open spaces for shared activities – concepts that mirror new educational initiatives that combine places for individual study with collaborative areas for group interaction. Because the middle school years are among the most stressful and intense, we deliberately chose an interior “brand” that would provide a calming environment for the students. Becky Williams from interior design consultant HLGstudio used the “park” concept to develop the material palette, with neutral gray “rock” colors and dark “wood” browns accented by fresh greens throughout the school.
In addition to the cultural brand identity of the school—calming and nature-inspired to encourage learning—the school needed a more “corporate” brand—a mascot to use for sports and athletic events and one to rally around as a school. The students and principal who will be attending the new school came together to vote on what their school mascot would be, using on-line Google surveys to gather feedback from everyone. This created a sense of ownership and pride for the students, who collectively decided that they wanted to be “Beulah Bears,” which tied in well with the park brand of the interior environment.
Bear designs ranged from ones deemed too friendly and childlike to ones that were too aggressive, and like the children’s fairy tale, we eventually found one that was “just right.” The school colors they selected – dark blue and gray – were a little more problematic for the design team, and we needed to find a way to incorporate these colors cohesively with the material palette of the learning environment already well underway. We used key accents of the school blue at important junctures like the school entrance and the gym and athletic areas to foster pride, and added graphics of the bear, paw prints and even scratch marks to reinforce the brand identity.
The new elementary school in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, is located only blocks from the 9th largest body of water on the planet and within one of the most productive and diverse ecosystems in the world. We chose to focus branding efforts, zoning and wayfinding on the ecological zones the students and surrounding population call home, ordering them in a logical way from beaches to farmlands as an individual travels through the school. In the center of each east-west classroom zone, we provided key nodes, or anytime learning spaces which teach students about specific ecological zones. From there, each classroom zone will be branded with a particular animal, flora, and ecosystem. As students grow and progress from one grade to the next, they will absorb information about the rich environmental heritage of the local community.
Upper grades: forestry and agriculture
Middle grades: bays and shallows, rivers, boating and fishing
Kindergarten and first grade: ocean, gulf and beach environments
Wayfinding and branding extend from the main, secure entry to the mini-gymnasium at the north, taking students and visitors from an underwater seascape into wetland, bays and rivers, forests, and finally agricultural zones.
The Biophilia-focused design specifically responds to the local environment surrounding the site, provides cross-curricular learning opportunities and teaches students about the area they live in, plants and animals they might encounter, and how to be good stewards within this environment.
While it may look simple, creating a school’s brand identity requires a lot of work and coordination. Using consistent coloring, size and fonts will form a complete and easily recognizable “package” that will give an immediate identification of who Escambia County’s Beulah Bears are and what they stand for. For Walton County’s new Elementary School South, students will identify with particular animals, flora and ecosystems as they grow through the school, ultimately understanding the different pieces that combine to make their environment special.
In both cases, this branding will differentiate these schools from others in their districts, and encourage parents to send their children there. As the brands are expanded on the schools’ websites, emails, posters, tee shirts and stationery, they will help create a visual environment that distinguishes these schools from all others, promoting engagement, boosting school spirit, and, when used as part of a comprehensive communications program, they help increase student achievement and success.
This blog was a collaborative effort by DAG’s Roger Godwin, Sara Pristera, Jamie Stephens, and HLGstudio’s Becky Williams. All have devoted hundreds of hours working on the design and branding of these two new schools.
1 Parent, Family, Community Involvement in Education: an NEA Policy Brief. NEA Education Policy and Practice Department, 2008.
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