Classrooms renovated for student well-being, improved learning

Sara Williams, News Editor

English teacher Hannah Kang (right) reviews an essay assignment with her class. The change in wall color was based off studies showing that orange creates a calming learning environment. Photo by Carly Uhlig

Color. A whole lot of it. Brightly colored cushions sit atop swivel chairs, and a light colored couch is tucked away in the corner. Along with an accent wall painted orange and another wall covered in whiteboards containing anything from a simple flower to an elaborately detailed meme, Room A132 is awash in color.

Ryan Bretag, director of instructional innovation, said the classroom is one of four classrooms recently renovated in an effort to improve student learning and well-being. Renovations in these classrooms include painting accent walls with colors proven by studies to create a calming environment and bringing in portable and multifunctional furniture. Information about the classroom renovations before and after a classroom is changed is gathered by the Learning Space Expedition Team, of which Bretag, administrators and other teachers are members. The four rooms are considered prototype rooms, and they will be renovated further based on the information the team collects. The gathering process concludes June 8.

“It would be easy to come and say, ‘Let’s get new furniture,’ but that’s starting with the what and not the why,” said Bretag. “How can we fundamentally look at the floors, the walls, the ceilings and the furniture to make this a better place for learning and well-being?”

English teacher Nicholas Timmer, who teaches in Room A132, said he believes the changes will be beneficial in the long run.

“It’s going to give us more flexibility in terms of what we do in that space because [the furniture is] easier to move,” Timmer said. According to Bretag, the team is meant to gather feedback through “pre- and post-occupancy” surveys completed by students and teachers in the renovated classrooms on how the rooms are operating, how to improve the four pilot rooms and how to renovate future classrooms.

Senior Morgan Barrett, whose English and math classrooms were renovated, said she was initially overwhelmed with the amount of changes in the room, one of them being the orange and tan walls.

Bretag said the Learning Space Expedition Team used studies on neuroscience and color psychology to determine colors for accent walls. The colors orange and beige foster warmer and less overwhelming surroundings, blue produces a calmer classroom setting and green creates a natural environment in rooms that have windows.

Renovations in the classrooms also include having more individual whiteboards for students and installing two projectors that can display images on both sides of the room.

Sophomore David Serlin, whose Spanish classroom was renovated, said he is anxious about the changes because the new desks are larger, causing the classroom to feel more cramped.

Bretag said three different prototype designs were implemented in the new classrooms with two of the classrooms having the same prototype. The prototypes are not specific to certain departments and can be adapted for any course with some modifications.

“[For science classrooms] you need the lab, but the front of the science classrooms could look very similar to [the renovated classrooms],” Bretag said.

Math teacher Kathy Brosnan, who teaches in the renovated Room A244, said the new changes allow her to have flexible seating for her students.

“Everyone right now is still encouraged to try out all the new places, high tables, low tables, [couches], just to see … where they think they learn best,” Brosnan said.

According to Bretag, four classrooms at Glenbrook South were also renovated with the same designs, resulting in a total cost of less than $25,000 between the schools. Other classrooms are expected to be renovated in the future, and the price of each is to be determined by a future bid process.

Depending on the results of the study, all classrooms in the departments that participated in the initial classroom renovations will be renovated eventually, said Bretag.

Barrett said she thinks the changes are a good idea because she finds that many students benefit from technology but often not from traditional classrooms.

“[The non-renovated classrooms are] all pretty boring and colorless and brick walls,” said Barrett. “[That] can make it really hard to want to be present and focus, so … this update was needed because everything else has been getting updated except the classrooms.”