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On this blog, we share regular updates about the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership between Extension's Children, Youth & Family Consortium and Bruce Vento Elementary School.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Walk through Karner Blue

By: Maks Luthra

Imagine walking through a well-lit, exceptionally quiet school hallway with pastel-colored walls, beautified by paintings of nature and soothing music. What a wonderful feeling!

On January 29th 2016, the CYFC team visited the Karner Blue Education Center, a school in Anoka County that connects students to their world through a compassionate and creative learning environment. The name of the school comes from an endangered butterfly species, Karner Blue, which only exists in two counties of Minnesota: Anoka County and Winona County.

The design of Karner Blue Education Center is based on a nature theme serving students with special needs, and departs from traditional school floor plans as it brings nature indoors to provide a calming atmosphere and creates a controlled outdoor space for students to learn, play, and relax. The school design incorporates more open and daylight spaces that assists faculty and supports the students as they learn life skills of self-regulation, coping, communication, self-efficacy, and socialization.

The 72,000 square foot education center has a capacity of 130 students with 6–8 teachers per classroom, supporting them to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors, build caring relationships with adults and peers, and be physically and emotionally healthy.

The school is spread out with wide, curved hallways and classrooms on either side to create four learning communities that accommodate different learning styles and encourage exploration. The communities are named after the Minnesota ecosystems: Prairie, River, Lake and Forest. Each community caters to specific student groups and focuses on different skill areas. The distinctive floor plans and furniture within these communities cultivates the skills of the students being served.

Modular furniture in subtle shades of blue, green, and orange has been used throughout the space to empower students to feel in control of their surroundings, as they can move their furniture and create their own sense of space. Window elevations in some classrooms begin just above the eye level of the students and go all the way up to the ceiling, maximizing natural light into the rooms. Some classrooms have small windows that are used strategically to allow students to look out at the surrounding beautiful landscapes.

This classroom features modular furniture and a small window at child's eye-level.
The school not only focuses on creating a nurturing learning environment for students but also takes into account needs of the staff supporting these students. BWBR Architects identified the needs of the teachers and students during their initial focus group discussions with the teachers, staff, parents, and children. These discussions were integrated into designing a building that isn't just a calming space for students but also serves to de-stress the teachers and encourages them to generate creative solutions to help students learn better. There are exclusive spaces for teachers, which serve as respite rooms, with large windows, acoustical tiling, and soothing music.

Like Bruce Vento Elementary School, Karner Blue Education Center also houses a school garden which plays a pivotal role in providing hands-on sensory experience. These natural elements strengthen the healing learning environment philosophy, helping students feeling supported and comforted. In winters, when it becomes practically impossible to involve students in gardening activities, fun doesn't end for these students. The teachers at Karner Blue engage them in winter activities such as snow painting and snow fidgeting, proving that nature can be incorporated into learning all year round!

Our trip to Karner Blue Education Center was inspirational, and we're full of ideas for the future for how to integrate nature meaningfully into the environment at Bruce Vento. We'd like to extend our sincere thanks to the principal of Karner Blue, Val RaeBoe, as well as the architects from BWBR for taking time out of their days to show us around the school and share their process and success stories with us. Thank you!


Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Learners is an ongoing partnership between the Extension Children, Youth, and Family Consortium and the Bruce Vento Elementary School. Together, along with many other partners, we are developing engaging learning environments that promote student learning and wellness.


  1. Very well thought out decor, the kids classroom with the eye level window is unusual but perfect!
    Delores Ensley

  2. Thanks for reading the blog, Delores! The windows at the eye level of the students is a great idea. We were told that kids often pick a book from the bookshelf and sit beside the window.


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