‘Modernization of the classroom’

HARLINGEN — It’s a group effort.

The desks, with their sweeping curves and bright colors, were clustered around each other as if to illustrate their plans to rehabilitate an antiquated style of solitary learning.

The desks, all cheery in shiny polished plastic or laminant, were dressed in joyful colors of sunny orange or blue. They greeted Harlingen teachers and administrators who spilled into the Harlingen school district’s administration building Friday for the “Modernization of the Classroom” expo.

The purpose of the expo was for teachers and administrators to view the new furniture with all its novel features and then provide feedback about what they liked most. That feedback would be used to determine which furniture the district would purchase for its classrooms. The district is seeking to bring a whole new style of furniture that would facilitate group activities.

“We are looking at modernizing our classroom furniture in the elementary schools,” said Veronica Kortan, the school district’s administrator for organizational development. “We have been studying different options for technology and furniture.”

She said the district is looking for furniture that will accommodate the collaborative learning platform. In other words, desks could quickly be moved together so students could work together, or collaborate, on classroom projects. They also could be split apart for more independent activities. The new furniture also would be more compatible for the use of technology such as iPads

“Kids learn differently than we did,” Kortan said. “Teachers have to be able to move them together to meet the needs for what they’re working on.”

The teachers spoke excitedly about how the desks could be used for collaborative activities.

“We are entering the technological age, and we need to keep up with the times,” said Lorena Jimenez, who teaches fifth grade at Bonham Elementary. All the teachers at the expo were from the district’s 17 elementary schools.

Jimenez said she looked forward to having the desks in her room to accommodate group activities.

“I like how they are integrating technology and collaboration,” she said. “We are about to do a science project and we’re moving back in a group.”

Eight furniture vendors, including Indeco Sales, J.R., Inc., and School Specialty, had desks and chairs at the expo. Eight technology vendors also were there. Kortan said teachers would provide feedback on what furniture they preferred. A final decision will be made in February about what features the district would seek when it goes out for bids.

Julio Cavazos, chief financial officer, said the matter would be discussed Tuesday at the school board meeting. The district, he said, has allocated $400,000 from the extra tax funds recently approved by voters. He expected to have the furniture purchased and delivered to the district by the end of the school year.

The furniture should be moved into the classrooms in time for the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year, Cavazos said. Current plans are to furnish all the fourth and fifth grade classrooms in all 17 of the district’s elementary schools next year.

The district will purchase another $400,000 worth of furniture next year for other grade levels in the elementary schools. Cavazos said this process will be repeated until the elementary schools are fully furnished, within about four years. He said the district would probably purchase furniture from multiple vendors.

Long-term plans call for the eventual purchase of furniture for the middle schools and high schools.

The desks on Friday sat on wheels and had more fluid shapes that would allow for the creation of flexible space. Portable desks in more fluid shapes also would allow for the creation of flexible space, which is important for the modern classroom, Kortan said.

One vendor had three desks with sinuous lines that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

“I like the way it all fits together,” said Nicole Romero, a fourth grade teacher at Long Elementary.

“They have a variety of different features,” Romero said. “Students can work in groups and then separate them.”

One of the features she really liked was the wheels.

“Because they have wheels, they can’t scrape the floors,” she said. “It’s noisy and it ruins the wax.”

The broad range of choices from different vendors interested teachers like Amanda Rubalcaba, who teaches fourth grade at Long Elementary.

“We are really looking at a lot of different furniture,” she said. “It will be nice to get it upgraded in the classroom.”

She was ready to get away from the standard space in classrooms, which is very limiting. The old desks needed to go, too.

“Furniture needs to be more than just squares and rectangles,” she said.

The desks seemed to illustrate the importance of collaboration in the classroom in order to prepare students for the work place where group effort is the key to success. District administrators have emphasized the importance of collaboration in the public schools many times.

The drastically new features of the desks seemed to hail a new era in which rectangular desks in neat rows are being shown the door. Their departure now makes room for a whole new look and a new concept in the way children learn.