The Kiva is an important element in the physical design of our building, but please understand that the Kiva is not an instructional philosophy or a schooling concept. East Lyme Middle School is built upon a sound understanding of the best educational practices for students between the ages of 10 and 14, and one of the most significant of those practices is the formation of learning teams. Our school is built upon the teaming philosophy, and the Kiva is one of the rooms assigned to each team of students and teachers. The word names a room in our school, the same way the words office, library and classroom do.

The term was borrowed from schools in Vermont . ‘Kiva' has a Native American origin, it fits well with our curriculum, and in its original usage it named a communal meeting place. In our school, it refers to a central meeting area for the members of a middle school team. It is a space other than a classroom, large enough to seat a whole team. It is flexible enough so that when not being used as a formal meeting area it may serve as a team commons area, resource and technology center, breakout space, or simply an open and inviting area. The rationale for including the Kiva in our school is two-fold. We want to emphasize the smallness around each team, and we want to maintain multiple uses for various spaces throughout the building.

In a school of nearly 865 students, the Kiva is essential to creating an identity for each team. It is important that every middle school learner feel a part of a small, intimate group, not a member of a large, faceless crowd. Even within our largeness, we want each of our students to have the sense that he or she is an important member of a small community, and every small community has its central meeting area. The Kiva is very much like the center green in a small town. It is the heart of the community. In the Kiva we post student work and notices, hold meetings and celebrations, relax and interact, learn and debate, explore and explain. It is an active learning center. The teaming philosophy itself is not new to East Lyme Middle School , however, and is not reliant upon the Kiva. We have created teams and small learning communities at East Lyme Middle School for more than 15 years, long before the Kiva became a part of our lives, and we have done so because we know it is the right way to teach our students.

The Kiva also assists us in providing a developmentally appropriate degree of freedom for the individual student, while maintaining discreet control over each small, manageable group. By circling classrooms, offices, lockers and lavatories around a Kiva, we can allow the students to move freely throughout the team area without having to worry about lost time or inappropriate interactions. Every space within the team becomes a supervised workspace, allowing the developing adolescent to experience a sense of freedom and responsibility as well as safety and security. We know that this design restricts unstructured social interactions and that is a conscious decision on our part, one that we feel is working well. Since our move into the new school with the Kiva design we have seen a decrease in behavioral concerns which occur in the hallways or in the lavatories within our school. Structured social interactions are embedded into every school day, however, so that students have opportunities every day to meet and interact with other children outside of their team, their House and their grade level. These opportunities occur every day in our Life Arts classes, lunches, and in our club and athletic activities.

The Kiva is the most flexible and functional space within our school. By distributing a Kiva to each team, we reduce the teams' dependency on the larger rooms within the school whole. The Kiva serves some of the functions of our media center and computer lab by allowing the students to do electronic research via the Internet or to host book talks and guests speakers. Each team Kiva hosts a mini-lab of 20 computers. The Kiva serves auditorium functions by allowing individual teams to mount displays or present small productions. The Kiva becomes a cafeteria allowing teams to host special occasions, ceremonies or receptions. The Kiva expands classroom area by providing project and group-work locations, and it reduces corridor space by making the passing area between team classrooms educational rather than just commuter.

The Kiva is the multipurpose room for each team, and in many ways it is one of the most exciting architectural features of our East Lyme Middle School . The Kiva supports an educational philosophy and a social environment that we feel is right for our children.