Steelcase Education, a company known for its innovative use of furniture, tools, and technologies to create modern workspaces, announced that Toms River Regional Schools was selected as one of only seven K-12 districts, out of 961 applicants, to win a grant valued at $65,000.
Steelcase, as stated in its request for proposals for the grant, is “focused on helping schools, colleges and universities create the most effective, rewarding and inspiring learning environments to meet the evolving needs of students and educators.” The Active Learning Center grant was open to academic institutions throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Steelcase Education awards only 15 schools annually. This year, Toms River High School North counts itself among winners that include the University of Massachusetts and the University of Notre Dame. The full list of recipients is posted on the Steeelcase website. The district will work with local dealer Dancker, based out of Somerville, to implement its learning environment solution.
High school English Supervisor Tonya Rivera spearheaded the initiative to remodel a classroom for sophomore and junior English classes taught by teachers Kit Coe and Mike Pape. The final application was co-written by Rivera, grant writer Mike Kenny and Assistant Superintendent Marc Natanagara, with input from district administrators, teachers, and students.
“Toms River Regional Schools was chosen because of a demonstrated commitment to active learning,” said Craig Wilson, Director of Market Development for Steelcase Education. “Research shows that space impacts behavior, and these classrooms will help a new group of teachers and students explore the learning possibilities an interactive space can bring.”
The award will enable High School North to convert one of its classrooms into an Active Learning Center with flexible furniture that fosters collaboration, like sit/stand desks, rolling white boards, integrated technology, and a “Campfire Lounge” for independent study. This new classroom encourages hands-on activities and less formal conversations. With multiple learning modes supported, students and instructors will be able to spark new thinking and understanding. The grant covers the cost of furniture, design, installation, onsite training, and a pre- and post-occupancy measurement tool to provide valuable data on the effective use of the space.
The model classroom aligns with a “maker” initiative the district has been highly successful in applying to meet new state Student Learning Standards in science, technology, and careers. The district has the most K-12 makerspaces in the state; is the top participant in NJ Makers Day, which just took place on March 24; runs the Jersey Shore Makerfest each October, drawing over 100 makers and more than 4000 participants each year; and its staff runs workshops across the state on their STEAM programs and activities.
The Board of Education has focused millions of dollars in recent years to improve technology and curriculum, and the investment is paying off well for students and the district. Technology and robotics clubs are flourishing in the schools, teachers are expanding the traditional confines of classroom space, and another of Superintendent Healy’s initiatives, a new Career Academy program, is set to launch at each of the three high schools in September 2017. The initiative has drawn dozens of partners and helped win hundreds of thousands in grants, meeting a real need as the district and town continue to work to recover from Superstorm Sandy.
According to Superintendent Dave Healy, “We are excited to be recognized by the Active Learning Center grant. Like the Steelcase mission, we are constantly rethinking our classroom, library, and other workspaces to make them venues where teachers have flexibility to be creative and differentiate instruction, and where students can be more in charge of their own learning.” The instructional model complements an elementary initiative begun two years ago. Last year, when the superintendent guided staff to develop full day kindergarten programs in all twelve of the district’s elementary schools, even the youngest students moved more toward centers-based learning and building independence.
The makeover project aligns perfectly with professional training initiated by Director of Secondary Curriculum Norma DeNoia in “Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms,” or LATIC. The Active Learning Center will be a manifestation of a proven strategy that encourages movement, student voice and choice, more efficient co-planning, higher levels of student engagement, and the development of critical problem solving skills.
The space will also serve as a model classroom, hosting professional development, workshops, and tours, and represent the district’s direction toward active learning in all of its schools. The renovation will take place this summer, and, with the support of Principal Ed Keller, district administrators, and the district Facilities Department, Ms. Coe, Mr. Pape, and their students will open the new Active Learning Center at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.