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Discovery STEM Academy

Newport News, Virginia


Newport News Public Schools


97,000 sf, 850 Students


New Construction


Holistic Learning Experience

The Possibilities of Learning Spaces (Discovery STEM Academy)

The Possibilities of Learning Spaces (Discovery STEM Academy)

In the design of the new Discovery STEM Academy, we were tasked with taking a small K-2 elementary school located in a low-income neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia and transforming it into a K-4 facility that challenged the very idea of standard elementary education to create a dynamic and comprehensive learning experience for the Academy’s students for years to come.

Integrate STEM curriculum into overall design.Represent the four elements of the holistic student (Leadership, Nutrition, Fitness and Discovery) in the design. Engage students in authentic problem-based learning through discovery and innovation.

By infusing the design of the school directly into the STEM curriculum, we were able to create a truly hands-on educational approach throughout every inch of the space — both inside and out. From flexible learning centers, exploration-based laboratories, edible gardens, and outdoor learning classrooms, each element of the school was designed to encourage and facilitate discovery while minimizing distractions and improving focus.

The Discovery STEM Academy was designed to be just as vital outdoors as it is indoors when it comes to overall education of the students. From edible gardens, to an Outdoor Amphitheater, to an Outdoor Learning Classroom, students are able to get their hands dirty, forge connections with other students, and discover how they can learn outside a “standard classroom.”

The main corridor of STEM Academy, aptly named the “Learning Lane,” provides displays and inquisitive spaces to nurture spontaneous learning. To help students engage freely with the material, these spaces are outfitted with dynamic seating, such as height-adjustable chairs, and stools, as well as versatile and adjustable work surfaces that encourage engagement in both individual and collaborative projects.

Discovery STEM Academy - Home of the Explorers

Discovery STEM Academy - Home of the Explorers

Collaborative Learning Zone

At the center of each classroom cluster is a Collaborative Learning Zone. This space fosters a sense of teamwork among students by promoting cross-disciplinary communication in flexible learning environments.

interior of Discovery STEM Academy

The learning space is as fluid as the curriculum, or fluid as the day needs to be. It's driven by the students.

4th Grade Teacher, Discovery STEM Academy

Wellness + Learning

The Fit Lab serves as a gym area, allowing students to run, play, and explore countless games and activities throughout the space. The Nutrition Lab promotes healthy food choices and maximizes opportunities for physical activity. Food is grown in the edible garden outside.

Closing Thoughts

 By incorporating groundbreaking principles in the integration of curriculum-based design, Grimm + Parker has created a unique learning environment that will shape the future of education in Newport News, Virginia for future generations.  


Best Design Award, New Elementary School

Virginia Chapter of Association for Learning Environments (VA4LE)

Grand Prize Award

Learning By Design

Silver Design Award

Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) Exhibition of School Architecture

Citation Design Award

AIA Maryland

Citation Design Award

AIA Potomac Valley