From state-of-the-art sensory rooms to award-winning modern designs, join ProCare Therapy as we celebrate these ten best inclusively designed schools in the United States.  

A committee of ProCare school therapy professionals reviewed outstanding schools across the country based on several factors, including the utilization of inclusive design core principles, the integration of special education with general education classrooms, and the quality of sensory spaces for students. 

These selected schools go beyond minimum accessibility to offer play experiences for a wide variety of needs—for example, by offering braille features for students who are visually impaired and sensory-rich structures for students with developmental disabilities.  

While all schools that strive toward increasing inclusivity and equal play are winners in our eyes, here are our picks for the ten best inclusively designed schools in the United States. 

Under each school listed, you can find photos, district comments, inclusive features, and more. 

Harvest Intermediate | DeForest, WI 

Photo courtesy of DeForest Area School District.

Harvest Intermediate School, located within the DeForest Area School District, for learners in grades 4-6, offers a comprehensive range of inclusive features and facilities tailored to support all students’ diverse needs. Harvest Intermediate School’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility is reflected in its inclusive design, ensuring that every student can thrive and succeed within a supportive educational community. 

The school offers various gathering sensory spaces designed to be accessible and inclusive for all students, fostering a sense of community and belonging. In addition to inclusive gathering spaces, Harvest Intermediate School features specialized rooms for students, such as a sensory room, fitness room, OT/PT room, and speech/language rooms, equipped to address specific sensory, physical, and communication needs. 

Photo courtesy of DeForest Area School District.

Natural light floods all spaces within the school, facilitated by skylights and large windows. Additionally, the school features dimmable lighting and high ceilings to minimize noise impact, creating an optimal learning environment for all students. In addition to an inclusive design, Harvest Intermediate hosts a service dog on-site every day and weekly visits from additional service dogs provided by an outside agency. The school also provides adaptive music and adaptive physical education programs, further enhancing the support available for students. 

Photo courtesy of DeForest Area School District.

Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School | Cranberry Township, PA

Photo courtesy of Seneca Valley School District. 

In August 2022, the Seneca Valley School District cut the ribbon on the new cutting-edge facility named Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School, where just a few months later, TIME named Ehrman Crest one of the “Best Inventions of 2022.”   

A unique part of Ehrman Crest is the partnership the district made with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to provide active, hands-on experiences throughout the building so the learning spaces are more collaborative, relevant, and engaging for students. Inspired by museum design, the school boasts interactive and engaging artwork, photography, objects, and exhibits to stimulate learning for all students and sensory needs.  

Photo courtesy of Seneca Valley School District.

Natural materials, along with varied and intentional access to the outside, provide opportunities for staff and students to gain authentic learning experiences and rediscover nature. Ehrman Crest also features separate elementary and middle school wings, along with a community wing that houses the Creativity, Innovation and Research Center (CIRC), as well as the gymnasium and music, art, and movement rooms.  

One important feature of the school’s inclusive design lies in these community wings. Ehrman Crest’s community space includes various room types, responsive furniture, open spaces, adjustable lighting, and outdoor views. Where schools traditionally relocate students with special learning needs, these community spaces support all learners and their varying academic and emotional needs in one place, integrating students into one community.  

Pope Farm Elementary School | Middleton, WI

Photos courtesy of Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District. 

Pope Farm Elementary School, located within the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, was designed to accommodate modern learning styles and foster creativity and collaboration among students, creating spaces that meet the needs and abilities of all students.  

A unique feature of Pope Farm Elementary School’s inclusive design is the “social stairs,” which is an area where students are encouraged to socialize and communicate with their peers. When designing this social gathering spot, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District considered how to ensure students of varying abilities could participate, make friends, and socialize in the space.  

To ensure all students are included, the social stairs feature notched-out spaces for wheelchair access. However, these access points are not pushed towards the ends of the staircase. Instead, wheelchair access is integrated throughout the social stairs, meaning children have a wide range of options when it comes to making friends and finding a spot to socialize.  

In addition, according to the district, bright colors and imagery that celebrate and educate students about nature are integrated into the school’s design to create an engaging and educational environment. Furthermore, Pope Farm Elementary boasts inclusive and flexible spaces that can accommodate the diverse needs and abilities of all students. This ensures that every student feels valued and included, allowing them to fully participate in all aspects of the student body. 

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District commented on the recognition: 

“On behalf of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, we are thrilled to share our statement regarding the inclusive design features of Pope Farm Elementary. It is a great honor for our district to be selected as one of the 10 Best Inclusively Designed Schools in America. 

“Pope Farm Elementary is the newest addition to our district, and it perfectly embodies our mission of being inclusive, innovative, and inspiring. We believe that education should be accessible to every student, and this belief is reflected in the design of Pope Farm Elementary.” 

Bluestone Elementary School | Harrisonburg, VA

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Barbour Photography. 

The design of Bluestone Elementary School, which was completed in 2017, emphasizes values of inclusivity, creative expression, and communal learning.  Over 35% of Harrisonburg City Public School students identify as English Language Learners, representing over 60 countries and speaking 58 languages.  

Bluestone Elementary School’s design celebrates this amazing diversity, fostering a sense of inclusion, and offering flexible learning opportunities in an environment that’s able to evolve and expand with the growing school community.   

According to VMDO Architects, the architecture firm behind the project, ensuring that the school was not only accessible but inclusive was a key focus point. An inclusive planning group was developed—which consisted of roughly 20 representatives with diverse perspectives, including teachers, special educators, food service and facilities staff, and district leadership—and the group had a large role in the design process to ensure the school design met the needs of all students.   

At Bluestone Elementary, special education spaces are integrated into core learning wings and student services are distributed close to learning spaces for visibility and ease of access. In addition, a generous sensory room is centrally located, and staff proactively schedule this space based on individual students’ needs. 

Creek ‌Valley Elementary School | Plymouth, MN

Photo courtesy of Edina Public Schools. 

A renovation to Creek Valley Elementary School was completed in 2018, where Edina Public Schools emphasized supporting their special education program and integrating it into the learning communities. 

The school implemented a state-of-the-art suite for students on the autism spectrum. This multi-room space allows for social opportunities, movement, and breaktime, and even has its own restroom. Additionally, the school was uniquely designed to provide opportunities for inclusion where general education students can easily meet with and build relationships with special education students, thereby increasing the comfort level when students with autism spend time in the general education setting. 

Photo courtesy of Edina Public Schools. 

Creek Valley Elementary School Principal Kari Dahlquist commented: 

“Purposefully designed space is important for a variety of reasons. It supports FAPE (a free, appropriate, public education), it provides the least restrictive environment (LRE), it supports our district’s vision, ‘For each and every student to discover their possibilities and thrive,’ and, of course, it’s the right thing to do,” said Creek Valley Elementary School Principal Kari Dahlquist. 

Lane Tech College Prep High School | Chicago, IL 

Photo courtesy of Lane Tech College Prep High School. 

Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, IL, boasts an award-winning “Sensory Well-being Hub,” which is believed to be the first of its kind in an American public high school. The 500 square feet sensory space, which is located adjacent to classroom activities, was designed to help students overcome stages of both hyper- and hypo-stimulation with three zones: active, respite, and “cocoon.” 

The sensory hub features a closed cocoon structure, adjustable lighting, a fidget wall, a textured wall, a compressive “car wash” entrance, a second open entrance, a beanbag with a weighted blanket, and acoustic panels for noise reduction.  

Photo courtesy of Lane Tech College Prep High School. 

Lane Tech College Prep High School commented: 

“Our sensory hub is embedded within our cluster program. The space has offered our students the ability to seek out sensory input, meet their sensory needs, and engage in multisensory learning. With a mixture of auditory, visual, tactile, and vestibular input, the space is continuously used as an alternative learning environment for all of our cluster students. The space has benefited our students by increasing their engagement and participation in various activities by supporting optimal regulation levels throughout their school day. We are thankful to our Lane Tech Alumni and the design team from HKS who were vital in creating the welcoming space for our students.” 

Redbud Elementary School | Round Rock, TX

Photo courtesy of Round Rock ISD.  

Round Rock ISD’s Redbud Elementary opened in September 2021 as the first school in the State of Texas with features specifically designed to respond to the challenges COVID-19 presents to a school environment.  

The school was designed to embody a state-of-the-art 21st-century learning environment. According to PBK, the architecture firm that worked on the project, the school has “Learning Neighborhoods” that house studios for all grade levels along with collaboration areas, small group rooms, a Professional Learning Center, a “makerspace,” as well as classrooms for visual arts and music, a gymnasium, dining commons, and a community room. 

According to the district, Redbud’s design was inspired by the district’s desire to bring biophilic design into the learning environment. At the heart of the school sits a giant redbud tree with branches connecting to all three wings. The school is filled with sensory experiences to create an exciting learning environment for the school community, allowing students to connect to nature through abundant natural light, outside views, organic geometries, materials, and color selection. In addition, every classroom has sliding walls and flexible furniture to allow for individual, group, or multi-classroom formats, enhancing opportunities for engagement, discovery, and creativity. 

Smithfield Elementary School | North Richland Hills, TX

Birdville ISD’s Smithfield Elementary School, a 98,000-square-foot school that opened in 2021, was designed to specifically highlight the social and emotional well-being of students while creating a place that embodies an inclusive learning environment, according to HKS, the design firm that worked on the project. 

The award-winning school was designed to offer dynamic spaces that encourage discovery, sensory engagement, and delight. The two-story Learning Commons, which is considered to be the “heart” of the school, features natural lighting, the “learning stairs,” a cabin, and a reading hive, all scaled for a neurodiverse population and inclusive of all abilities. In addition, Smithfield boasts a number of unique inclusive design features for students, including an outdoor sensory path; active, respite and playful zones; and a sensory well-being hub.  

Grant High School | Portland, OR

Originally built in 1923, Grant High School’s $158 million modernization project was completed in 2019 with a focus on indoor environmental quality, sustainability, and historic preservation.   

According to Mahlum Architects and Portland Public Schools, the original structure disadvantaged students of lower socio-economic status, race, and gender identity. For example, the cafeteria for students on free or reduced meals was located in a windowless basement, while students who could afford lunch would eat upstairs or outside.  

The modernization project addressed these disadvantages, and the new Grant High School design fostered a more connected and physical, socioeconomic, and gender-inclusive community in which all students feel accepted and connected. 

For example, after Mahlum Architects learned that Grant was home to more than a dozen openly transgender students, the school was intelligently designed to help combat bullying and the real risk of drop-out due to a perceived lack of safety, implementing 100% individual toilet rooms. Full walls and doors open to a shared space for wash basins and drinking fountains and with multiple ways in and out, the design limits entrapment and allows passive supervision, according to Mahlum Architects. 

Phelps Elementary School | Rockland, MA

Photo courtesy of Rockland Public Schools. 

Phelps Elementary School, a two-story, 120,000-square-foot building, opened in 2023 to support next generation learning as a replacement for the district’s three outdated elementary schools, according to Rockland Public Schools.  

Upon entering the school, students are welcomed into the main entryway with a display of multiple environmental graphics that boast a common theme of community. One includes a graphic reading, “Be kind with your words and your actions,” while another reads, “We are better together,” fostering a sense of inclusivity as students enter the learning community.  

Photos courtesy of Rockland Public Schools. 

The interior design of the school boasts vibrant bursts of color, and numerous walls are decorated with a variety of interactive environmental graphics and sensory items that explore themes such as nature, music, community, and imagination.  

The interior is designed to pique the students’ curiosity with these interactive sensory elements, including magnetic letters, dry-erase maps, unique seating, and other sensory items, according to SMMA, the design firm that worked on the project. 

Furthermore, Phelps Elementary School goes beyond minimum accessibility to offer these unique educational experiences for a wide variety of needs, for example, by making these interactive design elements accessible to visually impaired students. 

Photos courtesy of Rockland Public Schools. 

Celebrating Inclusive Educational Experiences 

ProCare Therapy commends the education systems, organizations, companies, and communities that contributed to the design of these schools. We appreciate their dedication to providing equal opportunities for all students, including those with different abilities, ages, and backgrounds. 

“We were absolutely blown away at the number and variety of schools that have implemented inclusive design elements in the last few years, and it felt nearly impossible to pick just ten. At ProCare, we feel grateful for this opportunity to spotlight ten schools that have shown the initiative and put in the work to provide a comforting educational experience for their students.  

“We also extend our acclamation to the school educators and support staff who help push inclusivity further into education systems and continuously work to benefit the experience for all children, regardless of abilities,” said ProCare Managing Director William Redding. 

If you’re looking for a school therapy career and wish to make a positive impact on students, visit our job listings today. 

About the Recognition 

ProCare Therapy’s committee of school healthcare professionals—including special needs teachers, teachers of the deaf and visually impaired, school occupational therapists, SLPs, and more—identified schools to recognize after conducting research through online forums, news articles, and social media conversations as well as speaking to school designers and builders across the nation. The team then selected ten schools with unique and inclusive design elements to be celebrated as the “10 Best Inclusively Designed Schools” in the nation. These ten schools exceeded basic accessibility standards through inclusive design elements catering to various needs. These schools were selected after undergoing a review of various factors, such as the sensory design features included and the integration of special education with general education classrooms.