Porter-Leath breaks ground for preschool and teacher training academy

Recently, we had the great honor of attending a groundbreaking ceremony in Memphis, Tennessee for the new Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy. A state-of-the-art preschool and teacher training institute, Porter-Leath will establish a continuum of early childhood education that defines and promotes excellence for young children, from prenatal to age five, and their families. It was a thrill to see such a large turnout for what many proclaimed to be a “momentous change to how early childhood is defined in Memphis”. It’s been a privilege for our design team to play a significant role in helping create a community beacon and a state-of-the-art center that will aid Porter-Leath in their mission to change the course of early childhood education.

Design for the academy began with a visioning process that included Porter-Leath, several representatives from the greater community, and RDG. During the process, one predominant question emerged – “How can the new facility connect children back to nature?” A comment made during the visioning session resonated with the team in finding their answer: “Memphis is a city nestled in a forest, next to a river.” The result of this consideration was a design by collaboration that beautifully integrated a vision of bringing the natural world and patterns of nature to the lives of at-risk children who often lack such environments in their daily lives.


The facility
The learning spaces within the academy are nurturing, safe, comfortable, and promote bonds between the teaching staff and young children. Ample physical space and light allow babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to explore, learn, and develop. This environment encourages interactive learning so that together, teachers and children read, act out stories, create artwork, practice counting, or conduct simple experiments.

In partnership with the education program for children and in a joint venture with Shelby County Schools, Porter-Leath is initiating a teaching academy that will train a cadre of excellent early childhood teachers who embrace the principles that define success for young children and their families. Together with the education program, the teaching academy will highlight the compelling message that our most vulnerable young children and their families are worth our investment.


The exterior of the building represents the convergence of the river and forest environments. Using colors and textures, the entrance and gathering space are inspired by elements from nature. Smooth to the touch, the cool, colorful wall panels bring a sense of water, while the strong vertical presence and rough, bark-like texture of the brick add a warm earthen element, playing on shade and light and producing an effect similar to looking up through a tree canopy.



Upon entering the reception and gathering area, through the journey to the classrooms and interior learning spaces, and back outside to the exterior playground spaces, children will be immersed in surroundings inspired by nature.

Colors, textures, and river and forest-inspired elements from the exterior will flow into the entry, through the multipurpose room, and throughout the corridors. Children will follow the flow of the meandering river as they travel through hallways, feeling the touch of trees as they pass by wood plank-wrapped walls.

This bright and energetic environment will provide an abundance of opportunities for interactive, engaging, and playful learning.


The site
Respecting existing mature trees and the natural site features, the Academy leverages these elements for unique outdoor learning opportunities. Age-appropriate play spaces wrap around the building exterior, making the most of the lush, natural environment. Parking is located adjacent to the neighboring elementary school, allowing the flexibility and convenience of potential partnership opportunities in the future.

Learn more about the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy here.

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