Cumberland Trace Elementary School Creates Active Teaching & Learning Spaces
- 16th September 2021
- Anthony Bowie
When Cumberland Trace Elementary School in Bowling Green, Ken., set out to construct a new school building this year, it wanted to take a modern approach to the project. That not only meant constructing a building that fit the needs of modern learners, teachers and administrators, but that also was equipped with seating, furniture, fixtures and color schemes that supported its mission.
With about 560 preK-6th grade students from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds, the school wanted to create a progressive environment that incorporated a touch of class. “We were looking for contemporary, alternative seating and furniture options,” said Wes Cottongim, Principal, “that would be conducive to our Kagan instructional approach.”
Focused on student engagement, Kagan works to get students involved with their learning—something that can be difficult to manage using traditional desk-and-lectern classroom setups. Ready for something different, Cottongim worked with the school’s dean of students/assistant principal and librarian; formed committees; and then began gathering design ideas from a wide variety of stakeholders.
The school also involved its financial department for input, among other stakeholders. “We grabbed the bull by the horns and then got other people involved in the effort,” said Cottongim, who asked teachers to come in during their planning periods and share what they did or didn’t like about what was being proposed. “Working with that feedback, we tried to give everyone as much input and choice as possible.”
Cumberland Trace Elementary talked to three different design partners before selecting MiEN to help it create its modern, new building. said Cottongim. “They were really easy to work with.”
MiEN also helped the school establish active learning and teaching spaces by outfitting the newly-constructed building with seating, tables and fixtures that support groups of all sizes. In its classrooms, for example, the school opted for seating that could accommodate groups of four students.
Wanting to support its STEM classes and promote better collaboration among students, Cumberland Trace Elementary created two “learning hubs” in its media center. The first of these smaller meeting rooms is equipped with a table that a TV can be mounted to, love seats, tall tables (that back up to the love seats) and other furniture that encourages small-group learning.
“We do a lot of interventions and social and emotional learning (SEL) groups,” Cottongim explained. For example, a therapist who is working with a student can shut off the hub and have privacy. The second learning hub features four large, soft chairs and a small swivel desk for writing and other activities. “All these elements were purposefully designed,” he added.
With in-person learning still experiencing disruption due to the ongoing pandemic, Cottongim anticipates a time when the modern furnishings and environment that his school implemented can be fully put to use. Until then, he said teachers have already been rearranging their rooms and personalizing them to their individual tastes and requirements.
They especially like the soft seating, which provides comfort, and the high tables that invite students to experience their learning from a different perspective than a normal-height desk and chair. “If it were up to me, and if I taught every single class in the building, we’d only have innovative seating,” said Cottongim, who likes the fact that students can sit on a bouncy ball, couch or at a high table to do individual or collaborative work.
Knowing that some teachers will prefer more traditional classroom furniture, Cumberland Trace Elementary worked toward a “happy medium” between modern and traditional, said Cottongim, who is sometimes surprised by the way teachers and students are using the school’s new furnishings in ways that he never imagined.
“In some cases, they’ll push the soft seating against the wall while in others they’ll leave it as a centerpiece that kids can rest on when they’re tired after a long day of schoolwork,” said Cottongim, who walked into the hub one day to find a student sprawled out across the loveseat, relaxing. “He’d had a hard day so I asked the teacher to let him just stay there, if that works for him.”