New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Primary Contact Name:
Laura Shubilla
Award Date:
May 2014
Grant Type:
National Planning and Launch
Start Date:
Fall 2014
Startup Type:
New School

School: Building 21 (B21) Philadelphia
Grades Served: 9-12
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Operator: B21
Operator Type: Nonprofit
School Type: District
Setting: Urban
Students at Opening: 150
Students at Capacity: 600

Blended Model Type: A La Carte

Key Features: Competency-Based Learning, Project-Based and Experiential Learning, Next Generation Staffing Model, Social-Emotional Development

The Operator: The mission of Building 21 (B21) is to empower networks of learners to connect with their passions, discover their purpose, and build agency to impact their world. Providing the support and structure for students to develop the skills and mindset to design their own learning is central to its vision. B21 seeks to customize secondary education at scale through a network approach to learning for high school age youth that fundamentally reorients the system to place the learner at the center. In partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, B21 opens its first pilot school, a non-selective neighborhood high school.

The Academic Model:

  • Students are designers of their own learning in this Common Core-aligned, competency-based system
  • Blurring the lines between formal and informal learning and providing digital content on each student’s personal learning device enables students to learn anywhere/anytime
  • Each student follows a student-driven customized Learning Pathway to graduation that includes six components:
  1. blended, self-paced modules
  2. internships, experiential learning, and dual enrollment opportunities
  3. studios for deeper, applied learning
  4. five-person peer teams for peer support
  5. 15-student advisories
  6. 30-student Anchor Learning Communities to support tracking and assessment and to deliver Personal Mastery (social-emotional learning) and Learning Design strand content

B21's founders talk about the school building's design

The Organizational Model:

  • The academic model is supported by reconfiguring staffing roles and incorporating mastery-based professional development through blended learning, professional learning communities, and coaching
  • Because much of the teaching and learning occurring online, in off-site and onsite studios, and through community and industry partnerships, the B21 space requirements in terms of size, layout, and location are considerably diminished
  • Lessons from this school will inform the district’s high school transformation efforts more broadly, especially for underserved youth. The goal is to reach 10,000 students in the next five to seven years
  • Expansion of B21 can occur through adding “nodes” to the network that plug into our learning management system, competency framework, online content and modules, and community partnerships.