Students Design for Education

Students Design For Education (SD4E) is a groundbreaking initiative to create a school designed by high school students. SD4E is driven by a team of students hungry for transformation, supported by community members and educators passionate about student success, and powered by BIF’s extensive experience in human-centered design. By bringing students to the center of education transformation in Rhode Island, we can inspire new models across the country.

Design Challenge

To leverage the collective power and creativity of students to design an education experience that is truly student-centered.

Too much of the national dialogue on education has centered on where we’ve been, rather than where we need to go. Vast amounts of energy and resources are poured into incrementally improving school performance, test scores, and graduation rates. If we want to dramatically change outcomes, we need an innovative approach to transforming education – we need to look at it through fresh eyes, and how better than through the eyes of the people most deeply affected: students.


Students will use the design thinking process to research fellow students’ needs, reflect and identify key insights, design new education models, and iterate until they get it right. The students will work alongside a diverse set of stakeholders including parents, teachers, and community leaders, leveraging the unique capabilities of all involved. BIF will coach the team in design thinking as they tackle education – from ideation to prototyping and testing. The Design Team will report to an all-student Steering Committee, facilitated by Youth In Action, ensuring fidelity to a wider body of student experiences and needs. This project is made possible through partnership with Providence Public Schools, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Youth In Action, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and the Rhode Island Foundation.

Impact Statement

This is not a theoretical exercise to see what students would like from their high school experience. The Design Team’s work resulted in two new student-centered public high schools opening in Providence in September 2015. By putting students in the driver’s seat of the design process, we invigorate the conversation about education transformation with real-world inspiration and learning, making innovation safer and more actionable for others.

SD4E provides the opportunity for students to develop and test innovative new concepts alongside experienced stakeholders, design a better education for themselves, and transform the national conversation. By positioning students at the center of education change in Rhode Island, we hope to inspire, inform, and motivate other education stakeholders to include students more fully in the innovation process, and begin to design a new student experience framework – one that is personal, comprehensive, and flexible for each and every student. By shining a national storytelling spotlight on this process, we create a repeatable approach for transformation in education.