Michelle Obama School


A new elementary school serves as a full‑service community resource and promotes equitable education.

The new Michelle Obama School is designed to facilitate active learning and support families with space for professional education and skills development. Built on the site of the previous school, it was intentionally designed to address a shortage of open spaces, community amenities, and resources for students and families in the neighborhood. The result: the district’s first flexible-learning school with multifunctional learning suites, integrated community spaces, and indoor-outdoor connections that put students at the center of their education.

With the school located in an area where four out of five families classify as low-income and half of students are English language learners, building an equitable new school that could give students agency in their education and help parents advance critical skills became the driving force behind key design decisions. Throughout a series of bilingual design workshops, the community was able to voice their needs, concerns, and goals for students’ education.

Full‑service school

Easily accessible, shared community resource spaces including a welcoming entry plaza, multipurpose room, library and adjacent community room were incorporated into the design to help instill a sense of belonging for both students and their families. These public spaces support family members, the PTA, parent education, and schoolwide functions.

Flexible learning suites

To promote connection, communication, and peer learning, the school was designed with new project-based learning suites. Two grade levels share a learning suite, which consists of a larger flex area, a project room, a small meeting room to support co-teaching, and adjacent breakout spaces for small group instruction. This layout supports the individuality of each student and drives authentic learning; students can choose the modes that suit their learning styles—whether to collaborate or work independently.

Outdoor learning and gathering

The site supports interactive moments with nature, respect for local ecology, and the regenerative power of sustainable design through outdoor learning areas and gardens. The drought-tolerant landscape creates a strong sense of welcome at building entrances and incorporates bioswales, providing teachable moments around water filtration and catchment to encourage environmental stewardship. Students maintain a flower and vegetable garden as part of their science curriculum.

The Michelle Obama School was designed with the overarching goal of making students feel welcome and valued. Extending this welcome to the community, the school nurtures the whole family and gives the neighborhood a place to come together to strengthen ties, learn new skills, and support equitable education for future leaders of their community.

Providing a green refuge

The new school buildings were distributed across the site and designed with gabled roofs to fit in with the scale and appearance of the surrounding residential buildings. Aligning the buildings’ massing to an east-west orientation enables interior spaces to receive abundant glare-free daylight and creates large public green spaces and outdoor play areas in a neighborhood devoid of recreational areas.

Location
Richmond, CA
Size
47,500 sq.ft.
The community has waited for a new school for a long time, and finally we are able to provide that for our children. The fact we are able to name that school after such an exceptional woman as the First Lady is the icing on the cake. The school bearing her name will inspire future generations of Richmond residents to reach their highest potential. Mister Phillips Board Member, WCCUSD Board of Education
Client
West Contra Costa Unified School District
General Contractor
Overaa Construction
Photographer
Kyle Jeffers
Photographer
Matthew Millman

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