By EMMA BARTLETT Third graders from Garden City Elementary School were hard at work on a recent Tuesday morning as they gathered into three groups and glued, hammered and assembled two stools and a bench to be used in their new school that is set for
Third graders from Garden City Elementary School were hard at work on a recent Tuesday morning as they gathered into three groups and glued, hammered and assembled two stools and a bench to be used in their new school that is set for completion in spring 2023.
Congregating in the Chester W. Barrows Elementary School cafeteria, representatives from Natural Pod and Fielding International – the project’s furniture manufacturer and architecture firm – explained to students that they would be building their own classroom furniture; all the designs were inspired by the students’ design ideas of furniture they’d like to see in their future classrooms.
The assembly process kicked off with faculty gathering students into three groups on the floor while music with the seven dwarfs singing put students in the constructing mood. Each group had a team leader and included third grade teacher Katelyn Veyera, third grade teacher Pia Riccitellihad and Natural Pod’s Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Carpenter.
This was not the first experience students have had with the new Garden City Elementary School’s furniture design process. In fact, Cranston Public School Department’s master plan wanted to make sure students were involved in the design process – feeling that their input was important.
“Sometimes we forget to ask what they [the students] think,” said Norma Cole, Assistant Superintendent of Schools. “It’s so exciting that the kids play a role in this.”
Cole said leaving Garden City Elementary School and transitioning to Chester W. Barrows Elementary has been an adjustment, but Principal Bryan Byerlee has exhibited great leadership through the process – not only with the students, but with parents as well.
On Tuesday, photocopies of the students’ designs from the year before were scattered across cafeteria tables. Key features in many drawings included comfy seating and forts. The students were extremely inventive and designed many furniture pieces after animals, such as a nook that was shaped like a dog and a hedgehog chair whose quills would be soft so the sitter was still comfy. Students also designed rooms by subject, such as a science room with planets and rockets hanging from the ceiling with stars on the walls.
Last year, those in grades two, three and four participated in the design plans through whole group and small group discussions in order to choose an area of focus regarding how they would like to see an area of their school furnished. In May 2021, multiple team members from Natural Pod met with second graders, third graders and fourth graders and spent six hours listening to their design presentations. The company then asked questions and gave feedback to each group of students who presented.
“Natural Pod team members were very receptive and enthusiastic about hearing directly from students,” said Byerlee.
Byerlee noted that the best part of this project so far has been the students’ level of involvement.
On Jan. 11 during the furniture unveiling, Jill Ackers from Fielding International explained that students have used their math, language arts and social studies skills during this project. That way, the project hit academic standards while engaging students with hands-on learning that could be applied as a life skill.
“Designing a school is a real life project and shows the students how the things they are learning all along the way are applicable to projects such as this,” said Jennifer Cowart, Communications Specialist for Cranston Public Schools.
And Tuesday’s hands-on experience came with plenty of teaching moments.
Third grader, Adriana Pina, helped her group assemble a new stool. Her task was to help put the screws in.
“It’s cool seeing how it’s getting built,” said Pina.
Jose Medeiora worked in the same group and said he helped put one of the stool’s legs in place. He mentioned that the whole project called for teamwork and was fun to complete.
At the end of the 45-minute work session, Byerlee asked students for their feedback. Most commented on using teamwork to accomplish their task and how everyone took on different roles to help – whether it be reading directions, gluing, putting in screws or assembling the furniture’s legs. Others mentioned how the direction’s pictures (which represented each step) looked easy but were harder than expected – we will wait to introduce them to Ikea.
Students will now keep these prototypes in their classrooms and test them out until the end of the year. At that point, the kids will provide feedback to Natural Pod on the stools, benches, nooks and forts. If there are no changes, the furniture will be installed into the new school as is. If the students desire to have certain aspects changed, Natural Pod will work on altering those features.
Following the third graders, fourth graders would build a bench and a nook since their grade advocated a lot for nooks and tents within their ideal classroom space. On Jan. 12, fifth grade will assemble a bench and standing fort.
“From big picture discussions to furniture design, and from painting the safety fencing around the construction site to having two way dialogue with the builders, their [students'] hands and voices are literally woven into every aspect of the project,” Byerlee said. “They feel a sense of ownership and pride in the building, before it even exists, which will translate into connection, investment, and student leadership when we are in the building.”
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