Why WLC?: Todd Biggert - Hoover Elementary FEATURE

Surrounded by mountains and desert landscape in Indio, California lies Herbert Hoover Elementary School, one of several elementary schools in the Desert Sands Unified School District. Serving 435 students from the surrounding community, Hoover Elementary was one of the older schools within the District - constructed in the early 1950's.

When designing the new additions and upgrades for the elementary school, there was much to consider in the way of community impact. Having an older school constructed in the 1950's came with it's own unique challenges. With multiple entry points, dated architecture and styling, and facilities that were increasingly harder to maintain, the cultural impact of the school on the community was hard to miss.

Todd Biggert, Principal of Hoover Elementary School, shared his experience on the cultural impact of the school.

"I think one of the first ways that we really saw a change in the culture in this school - just from the new construction standpoint - was the interactions that we had with the parents. I think the parents would come to the old site and see that it wasn't quite the same type of facilities that some of the newer schools were getting. But once we had this beautiful brand new facility, you could just see an immediate shift in the parents; a greater sense of pride, a greater sense of ownership, and a greater sense of community."

...you could just see an immediate shift in the parents; a greater sense of pride, a greater sense of ownership, and a greater sense of community.
— Todd Biggert, Principal

The addition of a single point of entry also had a major impact on not only school safety, but also the student and parent experience.

"To have one single point of entry where the vast majority (90 percent or more) of our students come through every day gives me the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis. The parents - if they have a concern, an issue, or a question - know that I'm up at the entry every single morning. They can come and address the issue immediately without having to worry about establishing a time during office hours. If you have an issue, I'd rather greet you right out there in the morning and let's deal with it right then and there.

Additionally, by having a single point of entry, the students have stated that they feel much more comfortable. We closed down the campus to parents and community members, who are now no longer allowed on campus freely like they were when I first started. The understanding of keeping the students safe has created a much more respectful and proud culture from the parents - where they have an ownership stake in doing what's best for the kids."

The updated architectural design has also impacted the school's visibility within the community it serves - in addition to impacting student achievement and classroom performance.

"We wanted it to be a beautiful campus. We wanted it to stand out - for looking not only fresh and invigorating, but also to be a beacon in the community - a beacon of hope for our students and for their future. The old campus was faded, dingy, and dated. It did not look aesthetically pleasing at all. The hope for the new design is exactly what we're seeing now - a shift in student culture that ultimately would transition into higher student achievement inside their classrooms."

Understanding the unique needs of the school and community it serves is a vital part of the design process. Ensuring that this process is a productive and engaging experience greatly impacts the success of each design project in a positive way.

"I would have to say that working with WLC Architects, just from the onset, was an enjoyable and an effortless experience for me. When I say effortless, it wasn't that I didn't have to put in time or work - but the entire WLC Architects team made me feel not only part of the team, but at ease and safe in any of our meetings and any of our interactions.

I knew from the onset that they were not just there as an architect team doing their job. They were there to support me, to support my students, and this community and I felt that way from the initial conversation with the WLC Architects all the way through my experiences with Jim (DiCamillo).”

I knew from the onset that they were not just there as an architect team doing their job. They were there to support me, to support my students, and this community...
— Todd Biggert, Principal

“During the design process I felt safe working with Jim. He was intuitive to our site needs. He had asked me multiple questions about the different programs, instructional needs, the student population, the demographic, and so on. We had one interaction when he was asking me about the current structure of our intervention tutors and where they were located at - and I explained that they're currently out in a portable, separated by bookshelves and filing cabinets and things of that nature - and it wasn't necessarily the best design for small group intervention and remediation. So Jim, once again, put me at ease and said, "Let me think about this. I think I've got couple different ideas that might work for you." He clarified what my expectations would be for that type of environment and what our tutors would need as well.

The next meeting that we had, Jim came back with an idea to completely transform our existing front office building into a new tutoring center that we would utilize as the main hub for our intervention and remediation tutors. I think that from that moment, I knew as a brand new teacher on this campus that my experience with WLC Architects and the entire design team was going to be a positive and stress-free experience - and I was 100 percent correct. They were amazing to work with and I'd love to work with them again."

Building positivity within the lives of each student is a commitment that WLC Architects incorporates into each school design we undertake. A special thank you to Principal Todd Biggert, the staff and students of Herbert Hoover Elementary School, and the Desert Sands Unified School District for the opportunity to impact the culture and future of Indio's strong school community.