Pictured above, from left: Gabrielle Karber, Sophia Zabell, Zamantha Guevara and Ricardo Acevedo-Alonso

If Zamantha Guevara, Ricardo Acevedo-Alonso, Gabrielle Karber and Sophia Zabell had it their way, Vancouver iTech Preparatory would have a two-level, octogonal design with a planetarium, library, gym, pool and rooftop gardens.

These four seventh-graders, working under the guidance of iTech teacher Mady McGrew, have given a new design for their school a lot of thought. They’re vying for a top spot in the SchoolsNEXT Design Competition, an annual international contest in which middle schoolers apply their creativity to educational facilities.

The iTech team says things are a little different at their school. And their model reflects that.

The team envisions a space that would allow them to extend the school’s science, technology, engineering and math focus. “We designed a school that integrates learning with technology,” said Acevedo-Alonso, who created a Revit model based on his teammates’ sketches.

To support that goal, each octagon has two classrooms with walls that move to accommodate different-size groups and windows that allow for abundant natural light. Blue was selected as the primary interior paint color for its low-stress properties.

Eco-friendly materials dominated the design. Rubber and polymer roofing would reduce weight and require less maintenance. The model calls for tankless water heaters, repurposed lumber and solar panels as well.

Student and staff physical benefits also were considered. An onsite greenhouse could supply fresh fruit and vegetables to the cafeteria.

More elective classes, from shop and home economics to robotics classes, would provide opportunities for a mix of technical and skills education.

“Nowadays people are more reliant on technology. Yes, we want to have our technology, but we also want to have the skills that our ancestors did,” said Zabell.

Rather than two locations, the new iTech Prep would be located on one site, in a facility with capacity for up to 2,600 students. “It’s cramped and crowded here,” Zabell said of the classrooms at the Jim Parsley Education, Family and Community Center and on the Washington State University Vancouver campus. “That’s why we wanted a bigger, open school.”

The team learned some valuable lessons about teamwork and time management over the months spent fleshing out their prototype. They received advice from others such as last year’s top iTech team, which made it to the international competition. “Planning to build or create something is really hard, and it takes time,” said Guevara.

Their hard work paid off. The team’s model rose above nearly 30 other iTech teams and placed second in the regional competition, squaring off against the efforts of students in Bozeman, Montana, and Calgary, Canada.

These middle schoolers said that they enjoyed the process and are planning to compete again in the future.

Added Karber, “We had fun while we were doing it, and that’s the most important part.”