Transforming the Classroom Experience


ACDS greeted students upon on their return from summer vacation with exciting new changes to their classrooms.  Completed in collaboration with the Dean of the New York School of Interior Design whose research focuses on how classroom design influences learning, and made possible by last year’s $3M anonymous gift, the classroom renovations emphasize flexible classroom organization and reduction in visual distraction, as well as focus on enhancing teacher resources. Although the approach was slightly different in the Lower and Middle Schools, keeping with the needs of the different age groups, all classrooms now have ergonomically responsive furniture that encourage movement and improve student focus and engagement. “There’s been a lot written in the last few years about the negative effects of sitting,” said Head of School Scott Baytosh. “We know that kids traditionally sit for very long periods of time, and we really had an opportunity to get ahead of the curve with that research in mind and do something bold.”

Embracing Movement in the Lower School

In all Lower School classrooms, traditional chairs have been replaced with ergonomically designed Hokki stools.  Rounded on the bottom, the stools build core strength and allow for movement, which is shown to increase student focus and on-task behaviors, as well as improve physical health– and the kids love them!  “I really like them,” said second grader, Aidan Zarate. “They are wobbly so we can move around our feet and our bodies.” “They help us get our energy out,” added fourth grader, Steven Peguero.  When asked if they’d ever want to go back to traditional chairs, Mrs. Atchison’s fourth grade class answered with a resounding “No!”

Additionally, classrooms now have desks that slide easily to reconfigure the room at a moment’s notice allowing for more interactive and engaging instruction.  On a recent Friday afternoon, Mrs. Laha and Ms. Carew were seen quickly pushing the desks out of the way to clear a large open space for the first graders to test how many apples they could carry in the containers they designed and built.

Near floor to ceiling white boards now cover several of each classroom’s walls allowing even our smallest students to add a word to the word wall or work out a math problem.  Forbo, a bulletin board like material, covers the remaining walls where teachers post, among other things, prior reading and writing workshop mini-lessons for students to reference as they are working.

Third grade teacher, Sarah O’Neill has found that the new furnishings have made a significant difference in her classroom. “The furniture allows for so much more flexibility for our learners.  Kids can stand, kids can sit, and kids can move.  The stools are really great because they are so lightweight that kids can easily move them.  Now when we gather on the rug, kids can choose whether to sit on the carpet or on a stool.”

Taking a Stand in the Middle School

Walk past any Middle School classroom and it’s readily apparent what a positive difference our new adjustable standing desks have made.  In every classroom there is a mix of students standing and sitting, and the choice of which to do is entirely up to them.  As 8th grader, Keith Lee explained, “When I get to school, I like to stand up but after recess I like to sit down, rest my legs.”

“The ability for our students to quickly and quietly adjust the height of their desks has helped increase student engagement,” said Ryan Woods, Head of Middle School. “In addition to the health benefits that come with not having to sit all day, middle schoolers are empowered to determine which position allows them to be most engaged and attentive. Furthermore, the mobile desks allow teachers to utilize desk configurations that are specifically tailored to the instructional practices they are employing on any given day.”

Additionally, each room is outfitted with stackable stools, and rooms can be easily reconfigured to respond to the dynamic hands-on style of our teachers.  Said Jim Girard, a 7th and 8th grade history teacher: “I configure my classroom multiple ways throughout the day to allow for teacher centered instruction, group work, individual work, and simulations. With the new desks, I can easily move set ups from a horseshoe shape, to multiple small groups and even push all desks aside for an open floor space.”