The Commons

An Educational Space Like No Other

The Commons opened in 2014 and is the first PreK-12 education space in the country to offer students multiple dimensions of education around creating a sustainable future. A 15,000-square-foot recycled Western-NY barn, the structure earns its status as a “living building” because generates its own energy, heats and cools with renewable nontoxic resources, and operates efficiently.

Harley students are active participants, working toward a net-zero operation in energy and carbon dioxide by managing its operations. This includes social aspects and an understanding of the impact of one’s behavior on both the environment and personal social community.

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The Commons

In early 2014, Harley faculty and students moved into The Commons--the first PreK-12 education space in the country to offer students multiple dimensions of education around creating a sustainable future. The 15,000-square-foot structure earns its status as a “living building” because it will generate its own energy, heat and cool with renewable nontoxic resources, and operate efficiently using students as the “brains” or controls for managing its operations. The Commons is constructed out of a recycled 100-year-old Western NY dairy barn.

The Commons is situated near the athletic fields on The Harley School Campus. It houses three new educational resources at the school, including the Briggs Center for Civic Engagement, Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education (CMEE), and a state-of-the-art Science Center.

The Briggs Center focuses on programs that put students, faculty, and the institution in positions of civic leadership—expanding Harley’s leadership in public-private programs. The CMEE supports emotional literacy among students, and build upon The Harley School’s Hospice Program, an elective course where senior students volunteer to provide end-of-life care as full-fledged caregivers at nine Comfort Care Homes in the Rochester area. The Science Center offers student-led programs that welcome broad participation and collaboration in tackling authentic science projects, which joins science and civic responsibility to tackle current science problems. In addition, The Maker Space—a creative problem solving and design program—is housed in the bottom floor of The Commons. This hands-on area provides students in grades PreK-12 with the space and support necessary for design thinking and student exploration focused on bringing ideas into reality.

The building's temperature is naturally regulated and energy efficient by use of a greenhouse, solar panels, a geothermal system, solar chimney, variable refrigerant flow air source HVAC system, rainwater collection, and solar hot water heating system. In the future, systems for carbon sequestering and a green wall will be installed. Systems are controlled and monitored from a central control room operated by students.

The Harley School selected Rochester-based organizations to design and build The Commons. Tom Johnson was chosen as the designer for the project, while Nichols Construction and architecture firm 9x30 built The Commons using sustainable practices and material.


Together, Students Will Learn How to Work Together as a Community to Solve Problems

The Commons supports a rich social curriculum that puts our students in charge of resource use. Students work toward a net-zero operation in energy and carbon dioxide.

Students are offered unique and creative educational experience that challenges them to think differently about science and our environment as a whole.



2016 Commons  Speaker Series Schedule

September 21, 2016 – Shawn Dunwoody, Confronting Change—Planting Seeds for Community Engagement

October 19, 2016 – LGBTQ Academy of the Gay Alliance, Gender Panel

November 16, 2016 – Meredith Ciaccia ’08, Special Olympics

December 14, 2016 – Peter Jemison, Iroquois White Corn Project

January 18, 2017 – Walter Cooper, Life in Rochester—A Perspective

February 15, 2017 – Siobhan LeGros and Cheddy Harvey, Raising Mindful Children

March 15, 2017 – Elizabeth Murray, Wade Norwood, and Victoria LoMaglio ’06, Community Health Panel

April 26, 2017 – Joel Pasternack, Science of The Commons

May 24, 2017 – Rajesh Barnabas and Erica Bryant, Community Activism

*The Commons Speaker Series is free and open to the public, and speakers and dates are subject to change.


Overview of The Commons

The Commons is a “living building” dedicated to education for a sustainable future—an authentic and evolving environment that puts students in the position to lead and link personal responsibility to the resource challenges of our times. The operation of all the systems of The Commons are part of a social curriculum where students strive to achieve a net-zero balance in energy and carbon. The Commons is a place of student debate and problem solving, where year-by-year new ideas are implemented and tested as the authentic challenges of sustainable living unfold for the student body. Harley serves our nation’s community of schools as a leading example of a 21st century education.

Second Floor
The Briggs Center for Civic Engagement focuses on programs that put students, faculty, and the institution in positions of civic leadership. Harley is nationally recognized as a leader in public-private partnerships that close the achievement gap for urban students from impoverished families. Recently, the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, Monroe Community College and The Norman Howard School launched summer programs based on Harley’s model and we have formed a regional consortium, the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association. Harley is partnering with the University of Rochester to develop an implementation plan for such regional consortia.

The Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education places Harley as a national leader in the pedagogy of emotional literacies. Harley has developed a unique methodology for teaching emotional intelligences through the Harley Hospice Program and we are committed to sharing this with others in the educational community. Harley received a matching grant of $250,000, from Edward E. Ford Foundation’s Educational Leadership to formalize, validate and provide teacher education and professional development for the pedagogy of teaching empathy, as well as to establish the Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education (CMEE.) The University of Rochester’s Motivations Research Group conducts program research and each summer the CMEE will conduct an institute that brings together leading theorists and practitioners to further the teaching of emotional literacies.

First Floor
We live in what is becoming a “Googly” world. What does this mean for science education? It means that large collaborative projects are the future. The Science Center on the first floor of The Commons supports programs such as the Environmental Leadership Collaborative, which joins science, civic responsibility and remotely connected project groups to tackle authentic science problems of our day. Internet-based mapping, result tracking and more will be released as part of this student-led collaboration.

Ground Floor
The ground level of The Commons opens to hands-on learning in the Maker and Projects Space dedicated to hands on learning. The time, space, and support necessary to provide opportunities to learn design thinking, explore how things work or bring one’s ideas into reality have become scarce commodities in education. As we look at our rapidly changing world, it is these skills and experiences that student will need to be creative problem solvers. “Educating students for their future and not our past” is the mantra of the Projects Space.