The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

An Old and Too Big Classroom Made Modern and Practical

on May 21, 2017

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about insufficient school funding in a small New Jersey town. But, I wasn’t interested in writing about a situation so common these days. Instead, I was drawn to a large, detailed photo that accompanied the article. It presented some significant information about a particular school that I decided to write about today.

About 40 years ago, the town of Freehold, New Jersey built a small one room school to be used as a Montessori school for young children. Now the town is much larger  and needs to use the building as an elementary school for 500 students of all grades from 1-5. Unfortunately, however, the school district does not receive anywhere enough money to change the structure of the building into individual closed classrooms or to build a new traditional type of school.

What I found much more interesting than the article however, was the large photo that accompanied it. Very clearly, it showed not only the size of the building’s original single classroom, but also its current organization, contents and some of its students. To me the photo did not look staged; it seemed to show the school in its ordinary operations. What impressed me right away was the modernity and practicality of the room’s organization and contents– no traditional desks lined up in rows, no designated front or rear side to the room– that allowed students easy accessibility to what they needed. In addition, the room appeared to be well stocked with all kinds of learning materials, plus large worktables, and various pieces of technology. I could also see about 15 students there, all at work alone or with classmates at different places in the room. There were no teachers in sight. I have no idea why the room wasn’t full of them and students at the time.

To be honest, I admit that my opinion of the classroom as pictured was influenced by my experience in the other classrooms I once worked in or observed in my retirement. Everything looked so much more modern, useful, and well organized than anything I had ever known. And since the students did not look up at the camera or smile, I was convinced that they were not posing, but truly working as they appeared to be. I could imagine that it was a good place for kids to learn what they needed or most interested them.

If you’re wondering why I have spent so much attention and so many words to describing this scene, there are two reasons. First, it was clear that district or school officials had spent whatever funds they had wisely and made an inappropriate space as practical as possible. Second, you could see that students were using that space for work and were not confined to desks or distracted by other things going on nearby. Last, I saw in this classroom workplaces and learning materials that I consider up-to-date and appropriate for students’ deep learning. If a had a magic wand the only changes I‘d make would be more space within and between work areas and the use of some partitions to cut back on loud noise and visual distractions. Then I’d put all those good features into our present traditional schools.

P.S.  Look at the photo as indicated in two places above and let me know what you think.

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