Typical schools measure student success based on grades and test scores. But on the outskirts of Chennai, India, in a rural area studded with leafy palm trees, a new measure of success is taking shape.
A partnership between a group of education entrepreneurs and Kurani, the Riverbend School is a boarding school designed to nurture something perhaps even more important than academic achievement: happiness. Read more
At the school’s core is an insight drawn from the longest-running study on happiness: More than your wealth, job, or fame, the greatest predictor of well-being over a lifetime is the quality of your relationships.
“Good schools are essential for creating strong communities, and community creates happiness,” says Danish Kurani, Kurani’s founder and chief designer. So, Kurani asked, What’s stopping us from creating a school whose main purpose is cultivating happiness?
In designing Riverbend’s campus, Kurani also considered multiple other factors related to the happiness of Riverbend’s students. Things like mental health, physical activity, and a sense of feeling in control of one’s education were also central to the design.
This is because each of these factors, in their own way, supports students in forming the kind of close relationships that breed happiness. For example, without a focus on mental health, students may not feel as comfortable being vulnerable to open up to other students. Without the freedom to run around, kids won’t properly socialize through play.
Central hallways with attached classrooms would be too confining to help kids feel connected to one another. Straight lines and hard corners would feel too serious to promote free play or activity. Rows of desks facing a blackboard wouldn’t encourage self-guided learning.
Instead, Kurani created a brand-new concept, one that can be followed by any progressive education leader.
The first thing someone might notice about Riverbend is that it’s set up like a small village. That is so students always feel like they are living and studying in a community. There are also virtually no straight lines, to encourage wandering and wayfinding. This freeform design also prompts students to interact with one another, instead of self-isolating in a corner.
The architecture of each building is also designed to maximize a feeling of community: No building is more than two stories, to help the campus feel more intimate. “Nobody feels warm and fuzzy next to a skyscraper,” Kurani says. “Low-slung buildings make you feel like you’re somewhere safe.”
Other choice details that support well-being: an on-campus farm for students to grow their own food, a zen garden, a lake with a meditation deck, and a slew of learning spaces, such as makerspaces, recording booths, art galleries, and design studios.
These kinds of details support a unique curriculum as well. In addition to learning subjects like history or math, Riverbend students are free to study coding, theater, dance, literature, and many other topics of their choosing.
Together, these details add up to an educational experience most students can only dream of. But based on more than eight decades of research, it’s one that should set any Riverbend student on a path toward a long, happy life.