2012 Bond Program Will Furnish Classrooms with Flexibility, Comfort

This isn’t the furniture you had in school: Those boring, gray standalone desks that hurt your backside after hours of sitting.

Imagine, instead, the kind of vibrant and comfy chairs you might find in an airport lounge or a bookstore. As the district rebuilds and renovates schools under the 2012 bond program, a key component will be modernizing the furniture and fixtures to reflect a 21st century classroom.

“Learning environments have changed in schools,” HISD’s Construction & Facility Services Logistics Manager Cheryl Hughes said. “They’ve become more collaborative, and our furniture and infrastructure must adapt to this change.”

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What that means is integrating flexibility into furniture. Tables and chairs are easy to move and can be configured into different shapes, depending on the work at hand. Maybe a round design with access to laptop connections and electrical outlets for students who need to collaborate on a presentation.

Later, when the teacher needs to test students on a topic, the tables can be pulled apart into a more individual design to ensure privacy.

“Twenty-first century furniture helps teachers create more learning options in the classroom,” said Molly Parnell, vice president of sales at Smith System, a manufacturer of 21st century classroom furniture based in Plano.

Her company works with schools to ensure the furniture is comfortable, visually appealing, meets space requirements, and works with different teaching and learning styles.

“Mobility is key,” Parnell said. “We don’t know where these classrooms are going 10 to 20 years from now, so we’re ‘future-proofing’ our designs.”

“Future-proofing” includes building durable, green-friendly furniture adaptable to changing technology and curriculum, she said. Another feature is making sure the furniture is ergonomically designed to fit young people so they are comfortable and pay attention.

Smith System has furnished K-12 schools for more than 100 years, including one that just opened in Puerto Rico. HISD has bought computer desks and book trunks from the company, but Parnell hopes to work more closely with the district under the 2012 bond program to help create flexibility for teachers and students.

Other features of the modern classroom include built-in cabinets and work stations, with power and data connections supporting multiple activities. These designs permit classroom repurposing throughout the day.

“Whatever it takes to make our schools look and feel 21st century, the district plans on doing,” Hughes said. “By providing these resources, we’re aiding students and their ability to learn and achieve more.”

Dogan Elementary Principal Tarrieck Rideaux has been busy picking out new furnishings for his new 750-student school, which will open in August, thanks to funding from the 2007 bond program.

His goal is to create a student-centered learning environment. Among the practical considerations was making sure his school has the infrastructure to support wireless technology. But if something needs to be plugged in, he’s made sure there are enough outlets in enough places to do that, too.

“(Teachers) now can focus on making learning come alive for our scholars,” Rideaux said. “That makes learning much easier and fun for our students.”

This fall, the district is planning a furniture fair that will allow bond campus Project Advisory Teams to view vendor displays and get ideas for their own campuses.