West Rowan Elementary School Creates Modern, Engaging Learning Spaces
- 11th June 2020
- Anthony Bowie
When Woodleaf Elementary and Cleveland Elementary consolidated to form West Rowan Elementary School in 2019, both predecessor schools were already proponents of alternative classroom seating as part of the instructional process. Students had various seating options to choose from. “It wasn’t all just desks and chairs,” says Kristine Wolfe, Principal, West Rowan Elementary School, which is part of the Rowan-Salisbury School District in Cleveland, N.C.
Teachers at the 625-student school were onboard with the alternative seating approach from the outset and used their creativity to blend a modern classroom approach with an aging building. “Making sure it wasn’t ‘one-size-fits-all’ was a priority for us,” says Wolfe, who mobilized a team of teachers to serve on a “furniture committee.”
That committee met with school system representatives and reviewed prospective vendors for the merged school’s new classroom furniture. After selecting MiEN as its partner, the school reviewed its options and decided to limit them in order to avoid having 50 different classrooms filled with different styles.
“We had a couple of choices for K-2 and a couple of choices for grades 3-5,” Wolfe explains, “Our teachers were very intentional about what they wanted in terms of the variety of seating, tables, desks, and other options.”
Upon entering a classroom, students can sit where they choose—be it on a soft couch, at a table, or even on the floor. “These options are definitely part of our teaching style now and it’s made a difference in student performance,” Wolfe says. “If kids are comfortable where they are, they work harder and perform better.”
Of course, change isn’t always easy to manage and some of West Rowan Elementary’s teachers were initially uncomfortable with their new classroom setups. “Some of them just couldn’t get past the fact that you really don’t need a specific chair for every child,” says Wolfe. “It was a paradigm shift for some of them, but it’s neat to see how they’ve created their own spaces.”
To help, Wolfe and her team talked to teachers about the value of having a more modular, flexible classroom, and encouraged them to weave that into their instructional planning. “At the end of the day, it’s about the students,” she points out.
To facilitate the process, the committee presented teachers with Room A and Room B choices. Teachers knew that they were playing a part in the selection process, but they weren’t overwhelmed by dozens of different options.
Today, the majority of West Rowan Elementary’s rooms are highly collaborative and engaging for both the students and teachers. One instructor manipulated the furniture in a way that emulated the board game Candyland, for example, while another transformed a classroom into a doctor’s office and operating room to teach order of operations.
“This really gives them the space to be creative in their teaching,” says Wolfe, who credits MiEN with helping the school achieve its goals. “They were amazing to work with. They truly listened and took notes as we were thinking out loud, and then came back with great ideas that fit our vision.”
Wolfe says parents also love the setup, and give positive feedback about the innovative learning space, seating arrangements, and vibrant color schemes. “The kids are very proud of it and it’s their home during the day,” says Wolfe. “They really take care of it, and are always proud to share it with campus visitors.”