by Elizabeth Casolo
When imagining a high school classroom, chances are, you conjure images of desks fastened to frigid metal chairs, the ones that you have to awkwardly maneuver around. You may think about feeling slightly self-conscious when you have to haul a desk across the classroom for group work, while simultaneously being concerned that the neighboring rooms will hear the table’s legs screeching across the linoleum floors.
High school furniture isn’t exactly masterful interior design, but the Greenwich Public Schools system is changing that. Dana Tulotta—Greenwich High School’s Interim Assistant Headmaster—has pioneered the initiative of replacing some of the dated furniture in at least 38 classrooms.
However, Greenwich High School wasn’t the first to plan for more contemporary and adaptive furniture. Other elementary schools in the district have used Red Thread—a company specializing in unconventional workplace furnishings—products to support Greenwich’s démarche of fostering innovative learning environments.
According to Tulotta, the entire process of selecting new furniture was tailored to the school’s students and faculty, with 474 students and 48 teachers participating in a test trial and survey of the alternative furniture. To conduct the trial, new chairs and tables were placed in the Sheldon Computer Lab.
Students and teachers signed up to have classes there, after which students filled out a survey to share their view of the furniture. Penelope Herman, a freshman, said that she “thought it [the furniture] was really cool, but I get super distracted super easily.” However, some students, like Paige Pray—another freshman—believed that the refreshing furniture could enhance her concentration: “They [the chairs] made it easier to pay attention.”
Junior Nicole Manrique added “The chairs themselves look very uncomfortable. This is just a personal opinion, but I personally hate chairs with adjustable heights. I’d rather have a chair with a set height.” She did not participate in the survey but has learned about the new furniture.
Some Greenwich High students were also doubtful about the undertaking; they believed that the funds could be allocated elsewhere. “I just don’t see the point in getting new desks and chairs. It seems like a waste of money,” Nicole said.
Athena Hartigan, a sophomore, wanted “The school [to invest] in Grammarly.”
Sarah Peng, also a sophomore, stated that “We don’t even have enough chairs for the Student Center.”
In response, Ms. Tulotta reassured “That’s already been addressed… Mr. Piotrzkowski has ordered chairs,” and they shall be relocated to the Student Center in the coming weeks.
Some may suspect that the venture is being funded by a surplus in this year’s school budget, which would expire at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. That theory, though, is far from the truth: according to Tulotta, while drafting the 2018-2019 Greenwich High School budget, a percentage of funds was dedicated exclusively to improving personalized learning, which includes innovative classroom furniture. Since the addition of new furniture was such a success at the elementary schools, the high school went forward with a similar plan.
When asked what personalized learning meant to her, Kennedy King—a sophomore — said, “I assume that it’s learning more unique to [our]selves.” She also thinks that, when it comes to the new chairs, “No matter the type of student you are, you are going to swivel.” Thus, some are concerned that the new furniture could distract from learning, not enhance it.
But the survey results indicated a general desire for new furniture. Based on survey responses, Greenwich High will purchase the Steelcase Node student chair, the most favorable chair among students and the second favorite among teachers. The school will also invest in the trapezoid desks, which received a 68.8% vote from participating teachers. In addition, two rectangular tables with taller stools will be added to each of the revamped classrooms.
Tulotta said that the rankings revealed that, when it comes to new furniture, it is “very important that furniture allowed them [students] to work in groups [and] very important that the chair will be on wheels.”
The mobility of furniture will not only facilitate group work, but will encourage various classroom formats based on two factors: the size of the room and the teacher’s preference. Tulotta believes that “helping to educate the teachers on how to actually rearrange the classroom to maximize student learning” is an essential step in the process. With the new furniture it has ordered, the administration hopes that teachers can re-energize group work and foster creative, personalized learning.
The magnitude of the endeavor is unbeknownst to most high schoolers, but, chances are, students will be exposed to the project’s efforts next year, as Tulotta stated “if we put 20 seats in every room… we will think it goes further” in terms of the amount of refurbished classrooms.
Allocating a portion of Greenwich High School’s budget reiterates a popular trend: innovative learning initiatives have taken the United States by storm over the past few years, especially as technology’s role in the classroom continues to increase. Having furniture that nurtures collaboration and creativity reveals how education, specifically in Greenwich, is evolving from linear and non-modular lessons to a more customizable and interactive approach, enabling members of Gen-Z to bridge connections and draw conclusions from a diverse array of resources.