New classroom furniture to support student engagement coming to AAPS thanks to 2015 Bond

Students at Allen Elementary are already enjoying more furniture options, thanks to new furniture purchased through the 2015 Bond.

By Andrew Cluley- AAPS Communications Specialist

The goal of creating flexible, inspiring learning spaces that support movement, student voice and choice will become a reality in 12 Ann Arbor Public Schools buildings next fall. All 258 of the core classrooms in nine elementary schools and three middle schools will have new furniture with that goal in mind at the start of next school year

The Board of Education approved the purchase of approximately $3.2 million of furniture from VS America and Steelcase this week. This is the first phase of classroom furniture purchases being funded thanks to voters approving the 2015 Bond. Approximately $10 million from the bond proposal will be spent on classroom environment.

The recommendation comes after a process that took over a year to get input from people throughout the district. An advisory committee of teachers, principals, and community members reviewed current conditions in Ann Arbor Public Schools, considered current furniture options, and then established ideals for classroom furniture. Then Students, teachers, other staff members, and the community got to test out how furniture from several vendors actually worked in model classrooms across the district and gave feedback.

Three 5th grade girls read at new desks
Mr. Carnegie’s 5th grade classroom at Haisley Elementary served as one of the model classrooms this school year.

School Board Trustee Harmony Mitchell says it’s important to move forward with the new furniture that voters said they wanted in 2015. Mitchell adds it’s great to see furniture designed for more student movement.  “When you go into the classrooms, and you visit the classrooms that have this furniture the kids are actively learning and able to function well with this furniture,” she says. “When you ask them questions about it they love it, the teachers love it.”

Scarlett Middle School 8th grader Rasheed benefitted from the new model furniture in the Project Lead the Way Classroom. “In my other classrooms I get kind of antsy,” he says. “In this classroom I get to roll around, not very much but just kind of play with it a little bit, and it kind of stimulates me and helps me focus better.”

In addition to being designed for more student movement, the furniture itself can be more easily moved than traditional classroom furniture. This allows teachers to rapidly reconfigure their classroom from a lecture style setting, to small groups, or other formations.

The furniture also replaces the old wooden teacher’s desk with a more mobile option. On a recent tour of her classroom, Scarlett Middle School Project Lead the Way teacher Leslie Baugh explained this helps with student engagement. “You’ll notice there’s no place in this room where a teacher is stagnantly sitting,” Baugh says. “The reason is because I want to be able to move and engage students.”

Allen Elementary students and their parents got to try out new stools at an Open House before the school re-opened this year after flood damage was repaired.

School Board President Christine Stead is pleased the district took the time to test the furniture out in model classrooms to ensure the furniture boosts student engagement, but also to make sure they are making a wise investment. “We were lucky to have that time to not buy things that in fact in the classroom environment didn’t last as long, some things were awkward.” Stead says. “I think we’re ending up with the process we went through, advisory committee to formulate what the money would be used for, and then testing and piloting in classrooms. I think we have a fairly good approach so that we’re likely to see some success in the classroom environment.”

Abbot, Bryant, Carpenter, Eberwhite, King, Lakewood, Pattengill, Pittsfield, and Wines Elementary Schools, and Clague, Forsythe, and Scarlett Middle Schools will receive furniture in the first phase. All AAPS schools should benefit from better furniture next year though since furniture being removed from those 12 schools can replace the worst furniture in other buildings. Additional phases will bring new furniture to all schools.

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