The campus is located on an 11 acre site in the heart of Spring Branch, in Northwest Houston. The Monarch School has a unique environmental design aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health. The Chrysalis building, Butterfly building and the Monarch Center building incorporate indirect lighting, soothing colors, clean air, and space design specifically shaped for individuals with neurological differences. The outdoor campus supports acres of project work in environmental education.
The Monarch School’s Chrysalis building is the first LEED® Gold certified and “Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR®” certified special education school in the United States. The Monarch School completed its Chrysalis Building in 2009 and received LEED® Gold Level certification in 2010. In 2013, the Monarch School’s Chrysalis building received the ENERGY STAR® certification for the third year in a row.
With the start of the 2013-2014 school-year students saw the competition of two new environmentally green buildings on campus, the Butterfly Building and Monarch Center. Both buildings received LEED® Gold Level certification in June 2014.
John C. Clements, AIA, and Shelly Pottorf, AIA, LEED AP of Jackson & Ryan Architects, have translated our mission and therapeutic practices into a physical space that supports the optimal development of students and clients. The metaphor of the Monarch butterfly exemplifies our dedication to shaping lives from the inside out™.
Our campus features an environment that works seamlessly with and empowers the process of transformation. The Chrysalis Building, designed for Day School students at the Novice and Apprentice levels, has 12 classrooms organized in four wings. Students enter their wing of the school through a central courtyard, creating a sense of protection, safety and well being. From there, they continue into a common living space around which three classrooms, a therapy room, a sensory area, a computer room, a “quiet” room and observation rooms are arranged. Classrooms are spacious and self-contained to properly modulate sensory input. A direct link allows movement from inside space to outside decks, small gardens, outdoor classrooms and planned pavilions for art, woodworking, dance, drama and animal care in the village area.
As Apprentice students’ skill sets increase, they will access learning in a more complex environment. In keeping with the Novice and Apprentice levels of development, the Chrysalis Building looks inward, reflecting the work of individual “I” centered growth.
Aware that new buildings can be highly toxic, we wanted to build a school that was healthy for our students, clients and faculty. So we pursued and achieved LEED® certification at the Gold Level—an award unsurpassed by any other school in Texas or any other special needs school in the United States. We are proud to say that we are indeed the healthiest, most sustainable school in Texas.
How did Monarch qualify for LEED gold certification? The Monarch Chrysalis building was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
Visit the Monarch Institute site here to listen to an episode of our radio show, Monarch Minutes, which focuses on Monarch receiving LEED gold certification.
The Butterfly Building
The Butterfly Building is designed to house our Challenger and Voyager levels and look outward—focusing on community-centered, “we” skills. Students and visitors will enter a shared, central gathering space and pass through the educational opportunities offered in one of the two outstretched wings, before going back out into the world through the wing tips. There are areas designed to support elementary, middle and high school-aged Challengers and Voyagers. Classrooms are open and free flowing, affording students multiple opportunities to practice the skills they need to function successfully in the world. Outdoor amenities include patios, gardens and a basketball court.
The Monarch Center
Nestled between the Chrysalis and Butterfly Buildings to welcome visitors and serve as our headquarters, the Monarch Center will house administrative offices and the Diagnostic Clinic. Outstretched wings of this building will house the Life Academy and the Training Center—both within easy access to all levels of the program, as well as therapy services.
Three buildings form the edge of a large, protected, environmentally rich outdoor classroom. Within the green space, a walking trail surrounds the space where a large garden with a pond, a firepit and a small shop for garden equipment are awaiting to be built The outdoor environment includes a granite walking trail, multiple fitness stations that line up along the trail and a courtyard garden with native plants and picnic tables. The outdoor fitness area provides our students with daily opportunities to practice our Four Core Goals: self-regulation and self-awareness, executive functions, relationship development and academic and professional competence.
Outdoor Studio Classrooms Our campus will also include five free-standing studios that will provide a unique resource that will offer different environments for practicing development in the Four Core Goals, and amplify our capacity to engage students and clients therapeutically. The Studio Classroom community will include: The Living Building Challenge Studio Classroom, Art Studio/Life Academy Storefront Studio, Woodworking and Construction Studio, Garden/Environmental Science Studio and a Dance, Music and Drama Studio.
The Living Building Challenge Studio Classroom is the first free-standing
studios on our campus.
• Green building and an environmental education program are key components
to the success of The Monarch School. The Studio Classroom is the first
project in Texas built to meet the requirements of the Living
Building Challenge (LBC). To date, there are only five certified Living
Buildings in the entire world.
Phase I, of the Living Building Studio Classroom’s 1,120 square foot free-
standing multi-purpose classroom is now complete. This Studio Classroom
has been built to the rigorously challenging LBC standards and the studio
will serve as an outdoor living classroom in which the student’s day-to-day
interactive decision making will help the building achieve net zero energy
and water performance.
We took on this formidable project because we believe in sustainability and
we are passionate about demonstrating what even a small nonprofit
organization can do.
The Living Building Challenge is a philosophy, advocacy tool and
certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement
of sustainability in the built environment possible today. LBC sets a
new vision for what defines a truly ecologically responsible, healthy
(non-toxic) and inspiring building environment capable of leading us
into the future.
Ultimately, the project will showcase three viable renewable energy
sources —solar energy, wind power and geothermal energy, as well
as incorporate active water harvesting.
Finally, students will play a primary role in monthly monitoring of the
school’s environmental efforts including —water harvesting, irrigation,
water conservation, electrical consumption and the wind turbine. As we
plan for the future, student’s outdoor activities and curriculum will include
planning and sustaining an orchard, pond and gardens. The students will
have the responsibility to share and teach about our conservation and
sustainability efforts with others. When complete the studio will serve as
an outdoor living classroom in which the student’s day-to-day
interactive decision making will help the building achieve net zero
The Art Studio/Life Academy Storefront is the second free-standing studio
that will also serve as an all purpose performance and meeting studio.
• Arts studio Over the years, we have learned time and again that
experience in the visual arts accesses strengths and talents among
students with neurological differences. Providing them with
therapeutically important experiences in sensory integration and
tactile and physical organization, the process of creative invitation
also promotes the development of emotional regulation, personal
self-confidence and self-awareness, and celebration of beauty and
excellence. Some of our students are owners of their own art companies.
• Life Academy storefront Our Life Academy provides a unique set of
student-operated, revenue-generating entrepreneurial experiences
for students, who operate more than a dozen enterprises as a core
part of their daily curriculum. By producing, managing and selling their
products, students and teachers get important, real-life practice in
finance and corporate construction, distribution and sales. When we
fuse these experiences with real-life production of goods, our students
gain a unique opportunity to build résumés and transcripts. We offer
every student a meaningful résumé of experience.
The Woodworking and construction studio is the third free-standing studio.
• Ownership and empowerment means being able to say things like,
“I made that” and “Our skills and labor made that possible.” Giving our
students the opportunity to design and construct their own projects
with wood, fabric, string and metal enables them to practice the
coordination of thought and action, develop physical competence,
deepen knowledge of the physical world and improve their ability to
focus. For example, our students recently created an “Art Car,” for
entry in Houston’s annual Art Car parade.
The Garden/Environmental Science Studio is the fourth free-standing studio.
• The environmental arts include gardening, small animal care, community
gardens, propagation of orchards and food-growing enterprises.
This studio houses our intentions and efforts to act in coordination
with and in care of our resources. Our students grew the vegetables
that they ate at lunchtime, and co-op an organic egg distribution system
with our parents.
The Dance, Music and Drama Studio is the fifth free-standing studio.
• Self-coordination through movement requires a simple, open space.
Intentional motor planning practice, upon which much of dance and
movement therapy is predicated, elicits a neurophysiologic response that
enhances cognitive development and sensory and motor planning skills.
Research suggests that students with autism and other neurological
differences benefit significantly from symbolic pretend-play. Drama offers
opportunities for spontaneous and novel interaction with others—
enhancing relationship development, one of our Four Core Goals.
We have hosted workshops with the Diavolo and Ad Deum dance
companies—our students working alongside master dancers.
It’s easy to see how we’re able to drive transformational change in our students, especially when our very environment contributes at every point to our mission.
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