Creating Collaborative Spaces for Students Post-Remote Learning

Creating Collaborative Spaces for Students Post-Remote Learning

When Lamphere High School welcomed its 730 students back on campus for the 2021-22 school year, it wanted every student to have a Chromebook. This would not only eliminate the need for computer labs, but it would also free up physical space in the school’s media center (which housed a large computer lab).

“We had about 35 desktop computers sitting in a big space,” said Rodney Thomas, Principal. “No one really ever used them.”

Knowing that the relatively unused space could go to better use, the school removed the desktop computers and workstations and cleared out the area. Working with MiEN, the school came up with an initial vision of what the space could become. “We wanted a place that students would feel very comfortable going to and relying on,” said Thomas, “almost a Starbucks-like atmosphere.”

Thinking beyond the traditional media center setup, the school focused on the key changes that took place on and off campus during the pandemic (e.g., the larger focus being placed on students’ social and emotional wellbeing) and factored those points into its plan.

“We wanted students to really enjoy being at Lamphere High School, relax a bit, read a book, do their homework,” said Thomas, “or just hang out in the space.”

Making Design Choices

With MiEN as its design partner, Lamphere High School selected the furniture and finishes that would transform a drab, unused computer lab into a vibrant, engaging “Commons” space for students. It wanted high-top tables for students to work at, charging stations, and comfortable seating for students to lounge and work on.

“We wanted it to be functional and cool, but also somewhat ‘student proof’ as well,” Thomas explained. With that in mind, the school picked durable tabletops and a color scheme that would be both inviting and easy to keep clean. “I’m big on aesthetics,” he added, “so everything had to be neat, clean, and organized, but also functional.”

Nichole Bontomasi, Educational Technology Integrationist and Media Specialist, was part of the planning team for the Commons and played an instrumental role in creating a space where students could interact with each other. This approach is especially important in the school library, where for the longest time, Bontomasi says these spaces were seen as a place where students came in to use the computer lab or the facility’s research resources.

“Books had actually fallen by the wayside because this space had become so computer-centric,”  she said. “We’ve been able to get more kids to the library as a community space, where we go back to that tradition of the library being the heart of the school. Students utilize our technology, but they’re also going back to using books and reading books in ways they didn’t do before.”

Students Love it

The Commons is also used for weekly English classes and will soon host new programs aimed at increasing overall reading activity. And while the English department visits the space regularly, Thomas said the school library’s circulation is greater among independent readers before school, at lunch, and during class.

Among its active patrons, the library averages one book every other week, per student, across all four grade levels. Its highest number of users (by circulation), are the freshmen and senior classes, which average 1.75 books per week.

Students using the Commons as a gathering and study area most regularly are 9th graders (during lunch), and 11th and 12th graders throughout the day. “We have two collaboration rooms checked out by teachers and students regularly for quiet study and small group work,” said Bontomasi.

Thomas said the Commons has been well received by students, who love the comfortable seating, functional furniture and espresso coffee station that the school installed in the space.

“Staff and students can go in there and buy coffee and hang out; it gets students and staff in there talking to one another,” said Thomas. “We’re helping to create those personal connections between our teachers and our students – which is an extra benefit that supports our efforts for improved social-emotional wellbeing of our students and staff.”

Branching Out

In addition to the Commons, Lamphere High School also equipped some of its conference rooms with new flexible furniture and encourages teachers to allow students to utilize the space. “We’re giving teachers permission to be more flexible,” said Thomas, “sometimes teachers just want to know that it’s okay to let four or five students go to the media center or conference room in the middle of class, and actually encourage that.”

The school also uses the Commons to host both staff and districtwide meetings, both of which help it “show off” the space and let more people know about it. “The more teachers who see it, the more will want to use it and the more feedback we’ll get from students on how much they like it,” said Thomas, who encourages other schools to get an understanding of their students’ wants and needs before jumping into a redesign project like this one.

“Know what your end game is. We knew we wanted a space that was going to be open and functional and purposeful that attracted students and teachers,” said Thomas. “Ultimately, I want people to walk in and say, ‘Wow, this is really cool. I want to see this in my school.’”

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