Author: Jeremy Koomler
After earning his degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and then traveling south for several years to manage projects at LeTourneau University, Jeremy and his wife decided to get to Texas “as quick as they could” for their love of culture, climate, and people in the south. Prior to joining the Cornerstone team as Commercial Projects Director, Jeremy spent fourteen years working exclusively in education architecture, both college and university as well as K-12. He enjoys the aspects of education projects that extend beyond the bricks and mortar, such as teaching styles and flexibility of learning spaces.
The saying “time flies” couldn’t be more true as I recently had the opportunity to visit our WonderWell project for the 11-month post-occupancy walk through with Founder, Ashley Reinhardt, M.Ed.
During design and construction, Ashley was very clear with our design team, and the team at Kelle Contine Interior Design, that WonderWell was not a daycare, but rather an early learning school with a very intentional approach of inquiry-based learning centered on the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education that originated in northern Italy.
After just 30 minutes of touring the school alongside Ashley, it was evident that this learning philosophy was something that the administrators and teachers alike were carrying through their day-to-day routine. As soon as I was escorted through their secure lobby doors (custom software was designed for parent check-in and tied to school entry door hardware), I noticed a class of early learners playing catch. At second glance, each ball had words ascribed on them, and this game of catch was a hands-on word sorting activity that proved to peak students' interest and lots of laughter! Next, I tested the observation rooms, one-way glass looking into classrooms with speakers to allow student teachers, teachers, or parents to have audio from that space. Here, I found another inquiry-based example as young children sat in a circle, with a circuit, and discussed with their teacher as they tested what caused the lights to come on. As I continued my tour, I was impressed at how intentional every detail had been thought through, including the communications, signage, art, and display of students work to tie back to Reggio Emilia and WonderWell’s emphasis on natural curiosity and allowing individual interest to guide student learning. Even the seating (benches as opposed to chairs) was selected to help strengthen the core of these early learners!
I was also curious how the building was performing after a year, what worked well, and what surprises popped up after the first year of learning. One of the most important design concepts was for the building’s neutral color palette to provide a canvas to showcase student work, ideas, and WonderWell’s philosophy. This appeared to be a success as the floors, walls, and ceiling finishes were withstanding preschool-aged learners. The gray magnetic dry erase boards, in classrooms and throughout the halls, were plastered with lots of colorful creativity and, in Reggio-inspired terms, “Documentation of Learning!” One of my favorite features of the building is the amount of windows, including clerestory (an upper roof section containing windows) providing indirect natural light to each classroom. The sliding glass doors along the corridor, in addition to spilling natural light into halls, provide views to the one-of-a-kind courtyard with areas for gathering, play, and gardening.
One surprise Ashley mentioned was that WonderWell’s physical education teacher’s out-of-the-box planning has outgrown the dedicated movement/gym space as well as the turf area in the courtyard, further demonstrating WonderWell’s inventive approach to early childhood education. The innovative mechanical system, large naturally-lit classroom devoted to the arts, and Teacher Learning Lab are more examples showcasing this same attention to detail as the building's learning spaces.
We are so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of the WonderWell team, and the news is spreading quickly! After being open for just a year, WonderWell has seventeen staff and is expected to be at or near capacity in 2019. If you are looking for a unique early learning environment for your child or an amazing career opportunity in early childhood education, reach out to Ashley Reinhardt and her super-talented team at WonderWell!
If you have questions about planning or programming an innovative learning space, or have additional questions about this facility, please contact Rodney Palmer or Jeremy Koomler at 512-329-0007.