Harlingen school district enters new era with new furniture

HARLINGEN — A new era has arrived.

Many of us are old enough to have seen the birth of the computer age.

We remember a time when we wrote letters, called people on rotary phones and used typewriters.

And then there were those horrible ugly desks with straight edges mounted on metal frames. It could be suggested the desks in the straight monotonous rows reflected society’s expectations. Children must absorb all the knowledge fed to them, and never think outside the box.

Well, that kind of thinking is headed toward the trash bin along with those hideous desks.

The Harlingen school district has awarded contracts for new desks and chairs which will facilitate collaborative learning.

“I am kind of excited about it,” said Lorena Rodriguez, who teaches third grade at Travis Elementary.

“They have adjustable, moveable seats and desks,” she said. “They are kind of like puzzles. You can move them together in sets of four when you need to for collaborative learning.”

Collaborative learning refers to several approaches to education in which students, or students and teachers, work together on class work. The concept is being adopted by an increasing number of schools and is part of the school district’s “Strategic Plan.” That plan emphasizes the 4 C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration, said Lori Romero, administrator for elementary education.

The district had originally planned to furnish only the fourth and fifth grade classrooms but then chose to furnish grade three as well.

Rodriguez was delighted because the modernization of the classrooms includes additional technology.

“Starting the year with new furniture and new equipment, it just looks good,” she said.

The new technology will include more iPads and will enable teachers and students to project class work onto a 45-inch Apple TV. Teachers will also have a computer from which they can project classroom instruction onto the TV.

Romero also was glad the district had decided to include the third grade classrooms.

“We figured if we accelerate it we can train teachers at the same time so it’s standardized,” she said. “It’s not just about the furniture. It’s how to use it.”

Teachers will be given training sessions to learn how to use the new furniture and technology for collaborative learning.

The school district showcased furniture in February at its “Modernization of the Classroom” expo. Eight vendors displayed their products so teachers and administrators could view the new features and provide feedback about what they liked most. They were noticeable impressed and even intrigued by the sweeping curvy edges and bright colors. They 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. This is an important feature of collaborative learning in the modern classroom, said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development.

The desks can be quickly moved together so that students can collaborate on classroom projects. They also can be split apart for more independent activities. They will also be more compatible with 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.”

Teachers say they’re happy about their new desks. Romero said they have a wing that can fold out or in so teacher and students can work in a small group. An attached podium allows the teacher to raise it or lower it.

The district is also purchasing more than 200 “noodle chairs,” Gracia said.

Noodle chairs have been designed for children with anxiety issues, he said.

“It has a lot of wiggle in it,” Gracia said. “In other words, kids with anxiety, or kids with ADHD, can sit in that chair, and that chair allows them to wiggle at will. The teachers find that is a comfort that they find.”

Superintendent Art Cavazos welcomed the arrival of the new furniture.

“We want our students to have a great learning environment that inspires them to produce their very best,” Cavazos said.

He also gave a shout-out to the design committee.

“We thank the committee for being the voice of our students, and we thank our Harlingen community for their support,” he said.