A Fresh Milieu

The Hyde Park Orthogenic and Day Schools expand their classes

The last thing these kids need is perpendicular walls. So our walls have a lot of curves, there’s a real effort on not being rigid,” said Timothy Shannon, chief development officer at the University of Chicago Hyde Park Day School and the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School. The Orthogenic School is entering its hundredth year in Hyde Park as an education facility for children and adolescents with severe emotional disorders.

This year, the two schools will be able to expand their impact from a brand-new campus on 63rd Street and Ingleside Avenue. The plans for the building were student-centered from the start of the process.Students spoke directly to designers about what they wanted and needed from the new building. The design of the school incorporates twenty-eight meticulously chosen colors to stimulate student engagement without distracting them. Great care was given to choosing everything from textures to tile  in order to create a “strong environment of mental health.” The building will be home to both the O-School, as it’s called by the students and staff, and the Hyde Park Day School, both of which are currently located on 60th and Dorchester.

“When the University said we wouldn’t have the building after 2015, that they weren’t planning on renewing our lease, the board had a hard decision to make,” said Shannon. “We thought about our options, whether we should just say, ‘Okay, this has been a good run,’ and close the school down, or whether we should try to move to another building. In the end, the board made a bold decision to custom-build a new campus.” In the five years since that decision, the campaign called upon key benefactors, tapped into historic endowments, and applied for new market funding through their Stand Tall Campaign, resulting in a brand-new 73,000-square-foot architectural triumph on three acres of land.

The two schools share a gym, art room, and multipurpose room in the center of the three-story building, as well as a residential area on the third floor. “We also have a transitional living center for more independent students aged eighteen to twenty,” added Shannon. “Many of them are going to college or will soon go to college and need a strong, supportive place to come back to at the end of the day.”

“We call our program ‘milieu’ treatment because we focus on development both inside and outside of class, building relationships. Usually students have gone through two or three failed educational attempts before they come to our school and they’re desperate and their parents are desperate.”

The Day School was founded in 2000 and educates students age six to fifteen with learning differences like dyslexia and language impairments. “It’s the only school of its type in Chicago,” said Shannon, adding that most students reenter normalized education after a few years at the school, and ninety-five percent of graduates go on to college.

The O-School plans to expand enrollment to ten more students, and the Day School will be able to serve about forty more. This may not sound like a huge expansion, but a small community like this is central to serving those with emotional disorders. “We serve as a pathway to hope,” said Shannon. “I’ve talked with a lot of the students’ parents and they’ve said we have changed their lives and changed their families.”

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