Originally Published: October 17, 2016 4 a.m.
With bright orange walls, futon couches, bean bag chairs and living room lamps, Prescott Mile High Middle School Room 104 looks more like a coffee shop than a seventh-grade Language Arts classroom.
The large windows brighten up the space, offering creativity, inspiration and collaboration for all who enter. Ms. Wendy Tollefsen, the instructor behind the classroom makeover, gushes with enthusiasm when speaking about the transformation from rows and desks to the flexible seating arrangement. “The response from the kids has been overwhelming, with one student telling me that his outlook on school has completely changed due to the design.”
While the classroom receives a thumbs up from her students, Tollefsen reveals the project’s inspiration: “Two years ago, I decided to start with my own space, by putting a small bookshelf on my desk to create a standing work space. From there the idea of reinventing seating for my students began to form. I did my research to support the transformation based on studies that explored the positive cognitive and motivational effects of flexible seating. That was all it took. I completed all the painting, moving and decorating three weeks at the end of this year’s summer break.”
Each area of the classroom offers opportunities for accommodating the different learning styles of the students. A large whiteboard has become a conference table where the students can collaborate with dry erase markers. Old office chairs were repurposed by taking the backs off and making stools for the table. A large open area outside of the couches, creates a space called, “The corral,” where students who need further instruction sit on bean bag chairs, or throw pillows and receive one-on-one instruction from Tollefsen. Once they feel comfortable with the assignment, they move back to the group, or many choose to remain seated and complete their work by helping each other.
Tollefsen admits that this type of flexible seating is not for every teacher. While some teachers from Mile High express interest and enthusiasm, others remain a bit skeptical. “Every teacher has their own way of teaching, and that includes the preference of the traditional classroom design. I find that Language Arts is a subject that accommodates this type of seating, and since we use technology every day, the need for a hard surface isn’t as necessary as it would be for example a math or science class.”
The transformation of Room 104 could not have happened without the support and trust of Mark Goligoski, Mile High’s principal, who allowed Tollefsen to make all the choices for her classroom, including the wall color and type of furniture arrangement. Also, members from the Solid Rock Christian Fellowship have been instrumental by donating bean bag chairs, and a high standing café table.
If it takes a village to raise a child, in the case of room 104, dedication, innovation and collaboration - combined with encouragement from the PUSD learning community - allows educators like Ms. Tollefsen to continue transforming the learning experience through classroom design or other innovative tools by embracing PUSD’s motto, “Every Child, Every Day.”