French school sets a new standard for learning spaces

A main pedagogic idea of the sixth form college at the French private school Saint-André Sainte-Marie, STAM, is to develop and encourage student eloquence. So, when the school was set up in 2019, it was with a strong focus on acoustics and to offer the best speaking conditions possible in a mix of spaces for both interaction and concentration.

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The private school Saint-André Sainte-Marie, in the city of Saint-André de Cubzac near Bordeaux, includes 1,880 students in 41 classes from kindergarten to 12th grade. The sixth form college, or lycée in French, has three levels with two classes each, for a total of 179 students.

The school started the project of building a sixth form college in 2016. The educational project was defined around an innovative and ambitious theme of entrepreneurship, in response to the constant changes of generations and business expectations. One important part of the theme is eloquence – and this has set the standard of the school.

The Learning Resource Center is a common space for both students and staff, designed for thinking, reading, learning, relaxing, meeting in small groups and seeking information on all types of media.

The classrooms are equipped with mobile furniture, to adapt learning and make the alternation of individual and group work possible.

A mix of different spaces

The sixth form college envisions a new concept of learning spaces, involving a mix of meeting halls, open spaces and classrooms equipped with mobile furniture and movable partitions:

The Hall of Eloquence: an entrance of 120 square meters that offers a space for welcoming, exchanging and sharing.
The Learning Resource Center: a common space for both students and staff. Positioned in the heart of the school, it is a place to live, work and exchange knowledge. The interior is inspired by office activity-based designs, allowing the students to work alone, in pairs or in groups. The space is particularly designed for thinking, reading, learning, relaxing, meeting in small groups and seeking information on all types of media.
The conference hall: 164 seats in an amphitheater with high-performance projection equipment.
Classrooms and common areas, equipped with mobile furniture, to adapt learning and make the alternation of individual and group work possible.
Two courtyards: one of which is vegetated to create a different space, with strongly growing trees offering natural shaded areas.

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The more comfortable the students feel, the calmer they are, and the more they are heard. As a result, this project can be considered a success.

Focus on well-being

When the project was just starting four years ago, the students at the secondary school were asked what sort of sixth form college they would like.

“All the answers were focused on well-being”, says Isabelle Porcheron, Head Teacher and coordinator of STAM.

Consequently, the objective of the project was focused on well-being and comfort and that the students would want to stay rather than leave as soon as the ringtone sounds.

“The more comfortable the students feel, the calmer they are, and the more they are heard. As a result, this project can be considered a success”, states Isabelle Porcheron.

She is very satisfied with the Hall of Eloquence as well as the conference hall.

“The Hall of Eloquence allows young people to speak out on a subject they want to share. And this hall really lends itself perfectly to this delicate exercise of speaking in public”, she says and adds:

“The conference hall is important for exchange and interaction with the outside, professional world. I myself speak regularly in the conference hall. There is an acoustic comfort that is undeniable. We have also received a lot of feedback from professional speakers, that it’s remarkable that they don’t have to raise their voice louder than in an ordinary room.”

The Hall of Eloquence is an entrance area of 120 square meters that offers a space for welcoming, exchanging and sharing.

The conference hall with 164 seats in an amphitheater with high-performance projection equipment and outstanding acoustic comfort.

More of an office

Caroline Zaruba is head of Cabinet Zaruba Architects, who got the contract to design the new school.

”The aim was to design a building that was not like a usual sixth form, but more like a small company, where students would be a lot more independent in relation to the premises and their way of working. So the project revolved around the Learning Resource Center, which is both a transit and a working area.”

To create a sound acoustic environment in these flexible and partly vast spaces was of course challenging. But the ambitions were high. As a result, sound absorbers in the ceiling as well as hanging units and wall absorbers do the job.

“We always work on acoustics from the start of our projects. We knew it would be challenging, particularly in the Learning Resource Center, that has a lot of glass surfaces and double orientation. But we managed to find the right absorbent solutions”, Caroline Zaruba says.

A canteen to eat, rest and chat in

Another challenging space, as in any school, was the canteen. Here, the noises are more acute and jerky and the number of people per square meter is sometimes more than in a classroom. A study of French schools by Opinion Way from January 2021, shows that as many as 89% of students consider their canteen too noisy.

“It is indeed a place where we are supposed to rest and chat with friends, so the acoustics are very important”, Caroline Zaruba points out.

The project group seems to have succeeded in that respect. The canteen chef, Éric Kuhn, doesn't have to raise his voice to be heard in the canteen.

“We are less stressed as there is a lot less noise, and it’s much nicer to work in these conditions. Students even tend to stay here longer than necessary, taking their time over their meals”, he says.

Generally, in canteens the noises are more acute and jerky and the number of people per square meter is sometimes more than in a classroom.

More alarming figures

The Opinion Way study also shows more alarming figures:

  • 86% of students suffer from noise in their schools.
  • 64% of students sometimes have a headache because of the noise.
  • 45% of students would like to hear the teacher better, regardless of their place in the classroom.

He enjoys teaching more

“Seeing these figures, I understand that noise has an impact on students’ concentration”, says Guillaume Bègue, teacher in economic and social sciences.

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The acoustic quality means that students understand better. In turn I enjoy teaching more, because I don't have to raise my voice to be understood.

In the STAM sixth form college he feels much calmer and more relaxed when teaching.

“I have taught in three other schools, and I noticed the difference straight away. In the current classrooms, I don’t have to make the same effort as before to talk or be heard. The acoustic quality means that students understand better. In turn I enjoy teaching more, because I don't have to raise my voice to be understood.”

Léa, student in one of the classes in the sixth form college, is happier as well and confirms the teacher’s experience.

“Wherever I sit – in the front, back or middle row – I hear the voice of the teachers perfectly, because they no longer need to raise their voice.”

 

Text: Lars Wirtén