Elevating education through design

April 28, 2023

Collaboration between an architect, the client and the community resulted in an award-winning school


Magnolia Montessori For All is an example of how design can provide students of all backgrounds with a supportive learning community committed to helping each child achieve his or her potential. Located in an underserved community in East Austin, the only public Montessori school in East Austin has a population of 500 students, ranging in age from infants to 6th grade. The campus has become beloved by all its users, and the administration is quick to note how the architecture supports large and small goals on a daily basis.

Client Sarah Cotner, Founder and CEO of Magnolia Montessori For All, described the drivers of the design and how it benefits her staff, students and the larger community:

“Montessori educates the ‘whole child’ and cultivates creativity, innovation and leadership skills. Children need these qualities to be successful in the future. Helping them develop self-direction, independence, collaboration, critical thinking means changing what they are doing at school, day-in and day-out. If you want to change what the children are doing, you have to change what the space looks like.

"Instead of looking like an institution, our school looks like a village. Each classroom looks like a house, and no two are alike. At any given time, there are children working outside in the garden; children peeling and serving carrots to their peers; children working on math or reading lessons; children playing musical instruments or taking care of the class pet. All of this activity happens at the same time, and the classrooms facilitate this. The ability to choose what to do and when fosters students’ independence, self-reliance, creativity and a sense of community.

"When we opened Montessori For All in 2014, there were more than 20 Montessori schools in Austin, but they were all private. We are a public school, so we accept all children. We intentionally created a racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse community. We have observed that when you change the programming and the architecture, you change people. We participated in a national study that measures different outcomes, and our school is at the top of the cohort related to persistence, sense of belonging, cultural competence and resiliency—all of which are important for creating leaders of the future.”

The campus design received accolades from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for supporting the institution's mission. The project received 2019 Design Awards from AIA Austin and the Texas Society of Architects. It is also the recipient of a Community Impact Award from the Austin Business Journal. Juries across the board are recognizing the role the design plays in supporting Magnolia Montessori For All's mission to bring high-quality education to its community.

Photography credit © Albert Večerka / ESTO Photographics