Basic high school seating has been unchanged for generations.
Single unit, one-size-fits all seating with desk tops attached to chairs.
All desks lined up in rows facing the front of the room.
Ergonomics — let alone the ability to foster collaboration — was given minimal thought in design and execution.
That is about to change at high schools in the Manteca Unified School District, especially in traditional classrooms where the subjects are math, English, social science and such.
The district is gearing up for a furniture refresh at the secondary level this summer. It comes after last summer’s $16 million upgrade of transitional kindergarten through eighth grade classroom furnishings.
What is driving the revamp, according to District Superintendent Clark Burke, is the board’s directive to put student success at the center of every decision.
“Desks and furniture are becoming tools to facilitate learning,” Clark said.
It is what drove the $154 million Measure G campus work as well as driving the $260 million Measure A modernization effort that is now getting underway in earnest at Manteca and East Union high schools.
Examples of making the classroom a learning tool in itself in the Measure A efforts at the high school level include:
*Walls that double as white boards.
*Learning stairs for outside academic endeavors incorporated into two-story classroom buildings.
*Walls that are removable to combine learning spaces.
*Wiring for audio visual and more robust device use including charging ports built into concrete bench style seating on campuses.
*Better ventilation to promote not just health but more student alertness.
Upgrading furniture is an extension of that.
Victoria Brunn, the district’s Chief Financial and Information Officer, recalled her teaching days when she was working with individual students and having to drag her chair from desk to desk.
The refresh is likely to include “chairs on wheels” to allow teachers more ease in moving around.
The furniture also will be more conducive to collaborating in smaller groups.
It is difficult to do today as the chair-set combos besides having to be dragged, are clumsy in terms of shared workspace.
The goal is also to have furniture that allows a teacher to optimize teaching.
Instead of six or so rows of five or six desks deep, teachers might be able to “teach in the round” where they are at the center of a circle and the farthest student from them is three seats — instead of six seats — away.
What the district finally settles on will depends upon a test run with various desks, chairs, and such being done in several high school classrooms this school year and the feedback received from teachers and students alike
Various furniture will be tried for effectiveness and flexibility.
High on that list is furniture that passes an ergonomic test to minimize physical discomforts caused by the one-size-fits-all approach to classroom seating that can distract from learning.
The furniture refresh was born from the district’s development of a strategy for critical learning recovery, due to issues the pandemic created.
The goal is to create an environment which encourages collaboration in safe spaces.
The California Department of Education has indicated that classrooms designed to support active learning increases student engagement on multiple measures, as compared to traditional row-by-column classroom seating.
Experts say healthy movement, color, visual aids and interactive furniture facilitates student growth while helping children feel active and alert – even while seated.
Manteca Unified leaders indicated the flexible furniture is intended to help increase opportunities for student collaboration, allow for low-impact physical activity opportunities, and foster communication skills as well as support innovative teaching.
They indicated other aspects of the environment such as noise level, visual aids, color, temperature, room arrangement, access to supplies and many other variables are all important to support the learning environment.
And — as a number of MUSD elementary teachers have discovered — the new furniture has helped make younger students less fidgety and to pay more attention.
Research has shown that children who have access to healthy movement in the classroom are more likely to stay engaged and to have better attention and behavior.
Typically, classrooms furniture is replaced on an as needed basis. The new furniture will have warranties ranging from 10 to 15 years.
The current furniture will be repurposed at school sites in empty classrooms and the excess furniture will be recycled.
The cost will be covered by one-time COVID relief money and supplemental funds.
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