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A Space of Their Own


Collaboration in Jason Atkinson’s second-grade class at Van Buren Elementary School often means moving some things around.

With tables and desks on wheels and light-weight, easy-to-move chairs, it’s easy for students to change their space to fit the learning activity of the moment.

two students enjoying their new wobbly stools in class“Desks don’t stay static, they move around during the day. In addition to that, kids are choosing where they want to sit, what fits their learning style,” Mr. Atkinson said.

Most of the district’s elementary school classrooms – including special day class (SDC) and functional skills classrooms - now have flexible seating in place thanks to the innovative project funded with $7 million in one-time federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars. 

A task force of teachers, custodians, and other district staff met to begin planning the project two years ago. After an initial program of early adopters involving 50 classrooms last year, 360 classrooms at 16 district elementaries received new furniture between Veterans Day and students’ return from Winter Break. 

two students using their new furniture seat cushions“It was a big project to do in a short amount of time, tracking thousands of pieces of furniture across the district at 16 schools,” said Senior Buyer Lindsey Hopson, who helped lead the project. “We just kind of put that all together and here it is.”

Jeff Lewis, Director of Purchasing, said there was a significant need for the new classroom furniture.

“We knew the condition of our furniture was not only very old but very limiting,” he said.

Task force discussions concluded that “we wanted to provide an environment that was flexible but also at least somewhat familiar to teachers,” Mr. Lewis said. “We wanted to stick to rectangular shapes because it's easy to put together and move around.”

Flexibility also is an important key factor. Tables of varying heights, tall stools, traditional chairs, whiteboard tables, and “wobble” stools that allow students to move while still focusing on their learning are among the new furniture items.

“We wanted something that provided students with choice. What works for one student may not work for another student,” he said.

For Mr. Atkinson, the ability to quickly change the learning environment has made an impactful difference.

“It’s so easy to very quickly move things in a way that works for what your lesson needs, rather than you adjusting your lesson to what the furniture can do.”

He feels the new flexible space will also have an important impact on his students’ future success.

two students enjoying the new furniture in their classroom"The fact is that while job skills are still important, employers are increasingly looking for communication and collaboration skills while hiring. By building these skills into the students' day, we are preparing them for the job market."

For Mr. Lewis and Ms. Hopson, the reward comes when seeing students interact with the new furnishings.

“It’s a fantastic experience and it's been a great opportunity because it's not too often you’re able to do a project that benefits students across the District,” Mr. Lewis said.

“I just think it gives them pride,” added Ms. Hopson. “It shows them that we care and that we want them to have nice things and have a nice classroom every day. It’s really rewarding.”