Many studies have shown the importance of daylighting and controlled classroom lighting for improving student achievement. Proper lighting, with an emphasis on daylighting (the illumination of indoor spaces by natural light), fosters a more focused and productive learning environment. Classrooms with well-planned daylighting also help improve the health of students, increase teacher satisfaction and offer energy and cost savings.

John T. White Elementary School was the first school in the Fort Worth (Texas) district to be verified as a High Performance School by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). Its design harvests daylight, provides multiple lighting controls for the teacher and achieves an overall higher quality of lighting.

The cost of the lighting is slightly higher than a traditional direct lay-in light fixture, but the installation cost is where the savings are evident. The lighting system consists of fluorescent indirect/direct linear light fixtures with daylight sensors, dimming and a multilevel switch next to the teaching surface near the teacher’s desk.

Multi-level switching includes a general mode with all fixtures on, an AV mode with some lamps or some fixtures off, and a quiet mode with some general lights off and the whiteboard light on to direct the students’ attention to the front of the classroom. 

The whiteboard light fixture washes the teaching surface with light, is switched separately from the general lighting and is turned off during the AV mode. 

During test-taking, when a classroom is still, a switch is provided to override an occupancy sensor and ensure that the lights stay on.

During sunny days, the lights are dimmed by the daylight harvesting controls responding to the level of natural light. In addition, the occupancy sensor turns off the lights when the classroom is not in use.

Part of the ease of construction is that it is considered a “plug and play” installation, meaning that the system comes prewired with plenum-rated wires to the light fixtures, teacher controls, and occupancy and dimming system. The system is offered by multiple manufacturers, thus providing more than one option for the contractor in securing bids.

The system not only improves the quality of the teaching space, but also saves energy. Buy-in for the school district was achieved easily by proving maintenance cost savings and getting the district one point closer to achieving a CHPS building. For teachers, it means more control, and for students, it creates a better learning environment that enables them to see both their desk surface and the teaching surface. 

After construction at John T. White Elementary was completed and the teachers moved in, one-on-one training sessions helped ensure that the teachers and students (and, by extension, the taxpayers funding the project) could reap the benefits of the system. 

Hildenbrand, AIA, LEED AP, and Lisa Lamkin, AIA, CSI, LEED AP, are with BRW Architects, Dallas. The firm worked on the John T. White Elementary School project. Click here to see the lighting instructions handed out to John T. White Elementary staff.