If Schools Are So Important . . .

By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

REALTORS® get involved in so many worthy activities that it would surely be hard for you to take on yet another cause, but after learning about School of the Future I think many of you will find the time to take on one more thing. The results are just too compelling to ignore.

In a sentence, the program gets middle-school students excited about learning in the same way they get excited about sports: as something to do as much and as often as they can.

That might seem too good to be true, but the program does one thing very well: It shows students what it’s like to really use what they know. Think about your own profession as someone who sells real estate. You sell to earn a living but you also take satisfaction in mastering the skills that go into a successful career: prospecting, marketing, persuading, problem-solving, and negotiating, to name just a few. You’re using what you know, and the more you do that, the more satisfying your profession becomes.

Therein lies the secret of School of the Future. The program was launched years ago by the people who design and build schools. Their professional association, the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International, hosted a regional competition in which students design the school of their dreams. Participants work in teams with guidance from a teacher and outside professionals and they have to incorporate certain criteria. Among other things, the school has to use natural resources efficiently, and it has to reflect ideas from students on what makes learning vital.

NAR got involved about five years ago and it changed the competition in two ways: It expanded it into a national event, and it added a judging criterion that looks at how well the school integrates with its community.

In joining with CEFPI, NAR’s goal was to make something available to REALTORS® at the local level that would enable them to get more involved in their schools. Today, REALTORS® are doing that in different ways: They’re introducing the program to their schools and, in some cases, acting as the main force behind bringing the competition to the school and as mentors to participating student teams. They’re also serving as judges.

All of this sounds good but it doesn’t quite capture the program’s effectiveness. You really don’t know just how good the program is until you hear students and their parents talking about what it has meant to them. To the students who participate, the competition has completely changed their view of what education is because it gives them a chance to understand what a school is supposed to be and it does it in a way that’s firmly rooted in the real world: They go out and talk with REALTORS® and architects and school administrators and others, and design a school that they and their classmates would gladly go to every day.

And it’s not uncommon for design ideas to make it into the design of a real school.

Most important of all, though, is the change that comes over students. As one mother has said, before her son got involved all he did after school was play video games. Now, he has a thirst for learning and getting involved in his community. Being part of the competition has literally changed his life. And his school, neighborhood, and community have come out winners as well.

In the video above, you can hear the impact of the program on some of your colleagues. They talk about their role and how much they were moved by seeing the changes to the kids. As one of your colleagues says, “You just get goose bumps. These kids will talk to you with such passion and such incredible knowledge.”

The future of our neighborhoods? Pretty bright, thanks to the energy you’re bringing to this program.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is director of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at rfreedman@realtors.org.

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  1. Marilyn Schneider

    I love to hear great stories like this because anytime a student is excited about learning, I’m right there cheering them on! I’m excited too! This motivates me to follow suit.