Walk into Jeff Conner’s classroom at Union High School and you’ll wonder if you’ve entered a Silicon Valley tech startup rather than a geometry class.
Students sprawled out on a couch, leaning over small, circular tables. Others sat at tables with large whiteboards for surfaces. More still sat at desks that could be propped into a standing position.
It’s an example of how Evergreen Public Schools, Clark County’s largest school district, is looking at creative seating options for students as it moves ahead building new schools and renovating existing campuses.
“It’s 100 percent better than what we had before,” said Conner, as his freshman and sophomore students filed into the classroom. “Kids just think it’s more comfortable.”
Voters in Evergreen Public Schools approved a $695 million bond measure in February 2018 to rebuild campuses and renovate existing ones. Though the 26,000-student district is still in the early phases of planning and designing new buildings, renderings featuring poufs and couches suggest straight-backed chairs and desks in rows are a thing of the past.
The district contracted with David Jakes, a former teacher turned consultant, to design and pilot new classroom furniture and layouts in several classrooms. School board records show the district has paid more than $30,000 in capital funds to Jakes’ Illinois-based company, David Jakes Designs, plus the cost of the furniture itself.
Jakes said he was tasked with designing classrooms that reflect the personalized learning the district is developing — the idea that students are encouraged to make choices about how they learn. Just like students can demonstrate understanding of a topic through a traditional report, a book of poetry or a short video, students should also be able to sit in the classroom in small groups, sprawled out over a large desk or curled up in a couch.
“It gives students much more choice to say ‘I need to do this for my learning today,’ ” Jakes said.
Alternative seating options are becoming commonplace at school districts locally and across the country. Some Woodland Public Schools elementary school classrooms feature wobbling stools, modified yoga balls and core discs.
Some research suggests that alternative seating may even help students stay on task. A 2018 study out of the University of Mississippi looked at whether students spent more time on task when given rubber disc cushions for their chairs. On average, the study found, students spent significantly more time on task when using the cushions than they did without them — 19.84 minutes in a 30-minute class period with the cushion, compared with 16.4 minutes without it.
Students and staff at Union High School say as much, too. Blake Conley teaches English and said he was surprised at how much more engaged students seemed in the class once they bought into the new furniture.
“They’re hooked,” he said. “They’ve got the cool furniture in here; it becomes that little bit more excitement there.”
Tera Vinyard, a 15-year-old sophomore in Conley’s first-period English class, said the furniture is more comfortable than she’s used to in other classes, helping her ease into her school day.
“I feel like it’s relaxed,” she said. “You’re in a good environment.”
Back in Conner’s geometry-turned-startup classroom, students lauded the classroom’s “chill” and “laid back” vibe — but said that doesn’t come at the expense of learning.
“Everyone’s a lot more comfortable,” said Cody Youngren, 14. “It’s easy to learn.”