As many of you may be aware, JTI completed our first education project in 2022 in collaboration with my father, sister, and brother-in-law’s architectural firm, Living Designs Group (LDG FL) Architects. This sparked a new joy for us as a company, researching and learning about educational design and the impact the built environment has on students and teachers. However, it is quite a process to get plugged into the many school districts in the state.
A good friend of mine, Lisbeth Linert, with Meteor Education invited me to accompany her to my first 2023 Winter FEFPA conference. It is a three day all-day conference packed with seminars, round table discussions and networking. Attendees consist of 20% of people employed by school districts and the remaining 80% cover FDOE, Architects, Designers, Engineers and Vendors. JTI also submitted our project, Marco Island Academy, into the Architectural showcase which was judged and awarded based on various education sectors.
I felt like I was drinking water out of a firehose with all this new and important information! The presenting speaker on the first day, Ralph Campbell, spoke on the importance of vertical development within an organization and the four success mindsets that determine how we view the world. The quote he offered at the end of his message really sat with me as one of JTI’s core values is GROW OR DIE: “Learning is a renewable source, but it must be practiced to be sustained”. I ended the evening with an amazing invitation-only dinner sponsored by Meteor Education and Gerflor. It was a memorable evening of discussion and laughter amongst fellow architects and members of various school districts.
The second day involved back-to-back programs that spoke on our State’s growth. I found the discussions very impactful, learning about the importance of data in planning and expanding a district’s infrastructure. A common denominator across the board was an increase in Charter School growth. Speakers also touched on a topic we’re all familiar with regarding our dwindling workforce, specifically preparing the next generation in the construction field. I learned about multiple amazing programs that are helping young students in high school and middle school with various mentorships. These programs, much like the pre-apprenticeship program at Junior Achievement here in South Florida, help bridge the gap to help our younger students gain access to the construction workforce.
Another important discussion was surrounding the impact design has on students and the importance of SEL – Social and Emotional Learning environments. Enriched environments included motor, social, cognitive and sensory stimulus for the students. On the design side that includes prioritizing daylighting, creating a welcoming entry, and providing access to green space. It’s imperative that various areas for students to learn also allow them the space to feel seen and heard. It was staggering to hear the statistics behind our growing mental health crisis with our students. 1 in 4 children have a mental health diagnosis and an alarming 60% of college students met a criteria for at least one mental health problem. We’re also facing a workforce shortage and burnout amongst our teachers. Recruiting and retaining qualified educators is becoming more and more difficult. We need to come from a community centered design approach and prioritize the mental and physical wellbeing of our students and teachers.
It was a long week away from the office but a valuable experience in pursuing educational projects and expanding JTI’s reach and expertise. A big thank you to Lisbeth for inviting me and Christine with Gerflor! JTI will definitely be attending this awesome conference again in the years to come!