School schedules were shifting, Covid cases fluctuating, and safety protocols were increasing at the oldest international school on the African continent. Schutz American School (SAS), founded in 1924 in Alexandria, Egypt, wanted to keep a promise to its community members by providing a safe, secure, and premier education through the mist of a worldwide pandemic. Updating facilities to ensure students and staff have environments conducive for inquiry-based learning was one way this was accomplished.
As the school nears its centennial celebration, the commitment to update campus was not only a challenging concept reflective of traditions but was started a year into the pandemic. With the help of Lesley Wood, a professional engineer, the design team began to reimagine campus by coordinating a new schoolwide masterplan.
Collectively working with students, teachers, administration and community members, they were able to grasp a sense of our needs and wants for the vision of a growing campus. One of the spaces on the shortlist was my visual arts building, smack dab in the middle of the five-acre lot and an old, rickety eye-sore. Meeting upon meeting, blueprint after blueprint, and following multiple attempts at nailing down the budget and supplier approval, we saw our vision realized into a tangible, functional, bright, and creative space in which students can explore the visual arts.
Head of school, Michael Schooler, was in full support of revamping the campus inside and out while juggling the multifaceted roles attached to leading during a pandemic school year. Covid aside, space was the number one issue when it came to functionality in the art studio. Construction was carried out by the amazing local maintenance staff, made up of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and jacks-of-all-trades. They sure delivered! Putting in countless hours, day after day, the team met their deadline and completed a flipped renovation in six short weeks. This is all the more extraordinary in that construction mostly took place after school hours or on weekends to ensure that educational instruction was not disturbed or halted.
Despite covid creeping across Egypt, SAS created one of the most beautiful learning environments seen across the international community. Large windows, accessible storage, detailed finishings and natural green plants have brought this room to life.
Comments like “this is something out of a magazine!” or “that’s a dream classroom” flooded social media pages as images of the renovated space were posted. “I literally race across campus to get to art now,” said one student. “I think I’m going to be in this room forever,” another SAS student shared.
“Being a part of this process from beginning to end, and seeing how excited everyone is was the coolest part,” an eighth grader commented as his face lit up with all the possibilities. “I feel encouraged to really enjoy the process of art making now,” another student stated when the room was revealed following spring break.
Teachers, students and parents alike were able to experience a small part of the physical shift to pursuing IB accreditation. Students can now switch around flexible seating options, construct and manipulate materials in the open floor plan, paint outside in the art garden, or get cozy on the soft furnishings. The space not only allows for students to collaborate, build, present, and be innovative risk takers, developing their visual communication, but it encourages them to find balance and clarity along their individual journeys.
I applaud the administrative team and board of trustees at SAS for pursuing this type of physical change and having the foresight to take on this project amidst all of the Covid challenges. What looks like just the start of facility remodels and updates will only better support holistic learning at SAS in the pursuit of developing global citizenship within our school community. At this bittersweet end to one of the most unexpected and challenging academic years known to education, we now celebrate a space that builds visual voices in all who enter.
We are Falcons, and we fly high. Watch us soar!
Libby Sievert is secondary Visual Arts Teacher and HS Student Council Advisor at Schutz American School in Alexandria, Egypt.