Slate Run Elementary Implements Unique, Flexible Furniture in its Brand-New School Building

Slate Run Elementary Implements Unique, Flexible Furniture in its Brand-New School Building

Working with MiEN, this Indiana school took two years to build a brand-new facility that supports collaborative learning, small-group instruction, and project-based learning with flexible furniture.

Outfitting an existing school building with modern flexible furniture is one thing, but taking a ground-up approach in a brand-new facility requires a completely different mindset. That’s what the staff and administration at Slate Run Elementary in New Albany, Ind., learned when it came time to demolish a 55-year-old building and construct a new school on the same plot of land.

“We needed a new school,” says Amy Niemeier, Principal. “We moved out of the old building and into a rented facility (from a local church) for two years while our new school was built.”

From DIY to Cohesive Vision

Open since July 2019, the new Title One K-4 elementary school can accommodate about 475 students. In their previous building, Slate Run’s teachers utilized a “DIY” approach to outfitting their classrooms.

“The furniture wasn’t functional or sturdy, nor was it very comfortable,” says Niemeier, who wanted more modern, modular flexible furniture options for the new school. “In most of our early meetings, I sat with another principal just flipping through furniture catalogues,” says Niemeier, who visited MiEN’s Michigan showroom to view the company’s modern, modular options.

“I wouldn’t furnish my entire house without seeing the furniture and sitting in it and seeing what it looks like in the actual environment,” says Niemeier, who also wanted to see what the sample chairs, desks, and end tables would look like once configured in the classroom. “I think that was really important, so I went to Michigan to see for myself.”

Active Flexible Furniture
Active Flexible Furniture

Getting Teachers Involved

Niemeier, who recommends other principals take the same hands-on approach to flexible furniture selection, says the day trip was well worth it. Also valuable was the time spent talking to teachers about their preferences. “We had some great collaboration around what we all really wanted.”

Not wanting to replicate the traditional classroom model comprising rows of students looking at a teacher, Niemeier says the furniture had to accommodate the short “mini lessons” that take place throughout the school day, and involve small groups that convene for 15-20 minutes at a time. “We needed a space that would allow for teacher-led instruction,” she explains, “and could also accommodate student-led and collaborative learning.”

In place for the 2019-20 school year, Slate Run’s new facility is conducive to small group, whole classroom, and individual learning. The furniture within it is modular and easy to move—features that enable a high level of flexibility in the classroom. “If something isn’t working well,” Niemeier says, “teachers can just switch things up a bit.”

Slate Run’s flexible furniture also accommodates the learning style of different students, some of whom want to be able to “wiggle around” a bit in the classroom, while others enjoy standing up instead of being confined to a desk.

MiEN provided both fixed and mobile storage solutions based on Slate Run’s needs and the architecture of its building. It collaborated with the district to design an integrated casework/ storage system of both fixed and mobile casework. The district was excited to see how quickly and efficiently these rooms could be reconfigured based on both the short-term needs of its teachers and long-term facilities planning. It was a win for everyone.

MiEN also provided built-in storage cabinets that are situated on top of the student cubbies along with tall, wardrobe-style cabinets for teachers. The rest of the classroom furniture is movable to allow for teacher creativity and/or the creation of collaborative learning spaces.

The Road Ahead

As Slate Run moves to using more project-based learning in its classrooms, Niemeier says the facility is set to accommodate that and other academic trends, including the continued application of technology in the educational setting. With the goal of incorporating more STEM activities into its classrooms, for example, it now has several different collaborative spaces where students can participate in breakout groups with flexible furniture.

One breakout space, for example, includes a unique table, soft seating, and an interactive smart board. The school’s “STEAM Room” includes makerspace tables that can accommodate project-based learning activities. Slate Run’s media center features several different areas where an entire whole class can sit together at tables and work on similar projects, as well as a circular seating area and several tiered-seating areas.

Flexible Furniture
Flexible Furniture

Easy to Work with

Reflecting on the 2-year-long school construction project, Niemeier says MiEN provided support through the decision-making process and has been “really easy to work with” and full of good suggestions.

“They listened to the needs of our school and district, which was important to us,” she explains. “And, encouraged us, told us about the trends, and showed us how different types of furniture would fit into our learning space. The designers and everyone else were very supportive throughout the process.”

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