Explorer Academy, Fargo
A Different Way to Learn
Explorer Academy in Fargo, North Dakota was built specifically to cater to the intensive needs of children with disabilities. Everything about the school, from the rooms to the furniture to the teaching style, helps the students learn how they learn best, no matter their style. The goal is to help them develop their academic, social, and personal skills to transition back into the general education setting.
Adjustable Lighting and children’s desks that can be put together for collaboration, or to create space around them.
When it came time to furnish the school, ordinary desks and chairs wouldn’t do. This school aims to meet children where they are, and that meant a specialized curriculum, furnishings, and ambience.
They called on Business Essentials to get what they needed.
As with many projects, there were a few problems from the start. Manufacturing shortages and shipping issues during the pandemic were just the beginning. But designers at Business Essentials were no strangers to roadblocks and met the challenges head-on. The first issue was dealing with blueprints that weren’t quite right.
“Our designer came and measured everything herself. She helped us fill each room with a purpose, using the most of each space, keeping our budget and our color schemes in mind,” says Dr. Justin Lien, Principal of Explorer Academy.
The building has many unique design factors that research has shown help students facing difficulties. For example, most interior walls are rounded. Dimmable LED lighting, natural light, and wall projectors present a calming atmosphere, as does the artwork.
Much of the furniture is soft and moveable, helping students get comfortable and ready to learn. There are calming rooms for students to use whenever they need them. And finally, specially designed air units operate quietly to cut down on the ambient noise so often present in a school.
“We’re really trying to reduce triggers for students in order for them to be successful academically,” says Dr. Rupak Gandhi, Superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.
Business Essentials was instrumental in helping furnish the rooms appropriately. And since school was already in session, they worked with crews before and after school to avoid disrupting students during the school day.
“They explained to our vendors what we were trying to achieve, using Explorer Academy as a model of what learning could be. They secured the equipment and found interactive furniture to add to our pods,” Lien says.
He says the practical needs were important, too.
“We needed durable, cleanable, heavy furniture for use in our pods, classrooms, and private spaces. They collaborated with our team, suggested room layout, vetted the vendors, and understood that we wanted to use furniture as learning tools: creating spaces of peace, privacy, and cooperation.”
Gem of a Gym
Another key feature of the facility is an interactive sensory gymnasium created in collaboration with their partner, TNT Kid’s Fitness & Gymnastics. The gym has ziplines, trampolines, and a pit with soft, foam blocks for a safe and squishy place to fall. It’s designed to increase body awareness and promote problem-solving skills.
The design of the sensory gym model is a shared goal of TNT and Fargo Public Schools for replication in other school districts across the United States.
“Through the use of the equipment, students can engage and work on their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills alongside their peers,” explains Leslie Frie, Director of Occupational Therapy and Director of Training at TNT Kid’s Fitness & Gymnastics. “We meet the students where they are and present an opportunity to build skills while completing obstacle courses or fitness circuits. With the right facilitation, presentation of skill, and the effective use of the environment, TNT presents the right challenge for the students to learn and grow throughout their time at the school, and then ultimately beyond into the community.”
Exceptional Learning Model
As for academics, the school focuses on science, technology, engineering, art, and math – with emphasis on social-emotional learning. The school opened in the fall of 2021 and students and staff love the surroundings, furnishings, and calming atmosphere.
“It was a great collaboration in creating and installing an environment with the help of Business Essentials to meet kids where they are and let their abilities shine,” Lien says. “We loved the entire process.”
To learn more about Explorer Academy, please visit Explorer Academy.
Explorer Academy Photos
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Photography by Dale Rung