Designed for the Future: A Look Inside the Academies of Frederick Douglass High School

Imagine a high school that’s completely designed, engineered and built for the future of education. A high school that’s complete with a digital media lab that has the capacity to design its own virtual reality environments. One where every desk and chair is on wheels to facilitate teamwork and group learning. Where Chromebooks meet textbooks in every student’s backpack, and where blackboards are replaced by mobile interactive flat panel monitors to facilitate collaboration in flexible learning spaces. For students at the Academies of Frederick Douglass High School, this isn’t a glimpse into the future—it’s their everyday reality.

Frederick Douglass was conceptualized and constructed from the ground up in anticipation of the ongoing changes in technology, education and sustainability that lie ahead. The school was brought to life through a long-term collaboration among Fayette County Public Schools, Perkins + Will and Tate Hill Jacobs Architects which aimed to create a collaborative community that ensures all students achieve at high levels and graduate prepared to excel in a global society.

Photo provided by Tate Hill Jacobs Architects
Photo provided by Tate Hill Jacobs Architects

Currently, Frederick Douglass has implemented four Academies (or small learning communities), each of which has its own wing of the school and includes state-of-the-art features that facilitate Project-Based Learning (PBL).  For example, the Health Sciences Academy is equipped with real hospital beds and medical mannequins, offering students hands-on, real-world learning opportunities. Additionally, the Technology Academy features 3D printers and Oculus Rift VR headsets which allow students to go on virtual field trips without having to step outside of their Academy. Each Academy also features a common space for students and teachers to utilize both during and in between classes.

Susan Stokes Hill, principal emeritus at Tate Hill Jacobs Architects, said stepping back from the standard mode of programming and viewing the school from an emerging 21st Century perspective was key to the design process.

“We had to consider how this new school would support the most current, trending ideas of education for high school students while also providing flexibility for dynamic changes in the years ahead,” she said.

Photo provided by Tate Hill Jacobs Architects
Photo provided by Tate Hill Jacobs Architects

And this forward-thinking approach to architecture did not come about on its own. Hill noted that it was the result of a highly collaborative process including educators, administrators, student focus groups, teacher focus groups, design professionals and the community all working together to develop a new vision for the future of high school.

“We set forth to create a building that could inspire and change with the constantly evolving challenges of a new century, and to embrace the idea that student-led, teacher-facilitated learning is a pathway to developing critical thinking for the future,” said Hill.

Academy Coach Shawn Hinds added that the school’s approach to being future-ready spans beyond the building’s structure as the team at Frederick Douglass has all adopted a culture of transformative thinking. “I’m really proud of how all of our teachers have accepted the challenge of doing something different through our Academies. We started with a brand new team, and every single team member has supported the idea that we have to provide something different to our students. Our teachers are revolutionaries,” he said.

And it’s indeed Frederick Douglass’ new approach to education that has been lauded perhaps even more so than its high-tech facility. Seth Spears, who was previously homeschooled, actually enrolled at Douglass to experience public school for the very first time after learning about the Academy model. “My parents and I discovered the advantages of Academies and the opportunities that they open up, and that was a major draw. It’s also a plus that I will hopefully graduate with some college credit,” said Spears, a senior in the Health Sciences Academy.



Principal Lester Diaz was careful to note that the 287,125-square-foot building itself is only as good as what goes on within it. “It’s the philosophy behind Douglass that makes us special. Nothing is as important as our people—the passion and caring attitude that our students and teachers bring on a daily basis. That’s the foundation of our success,” remarked Diaz.

He also added that he’s been impressed by the level of responsibility and respect the students have shown toward their school. “Our students have embraced, accepted and excelled in the amount of freedom they have here at Douglass. They take pride in having a brand new school that is well-maintained and caters to their interests and futures.”


To learn more about the Academies of Frederick Douglass High School, please feel free to contact:

Frederick Douglass High School

Academy Coach Shawn Hinds



Natalie Shepard

Partnership Manager, Business & Education Network