MAKING MAGIC

Contest Prize Transforms High School’s Classroom Environment

The before and after of James M. Steele Accelerated High School’s Career Technology Education (CTE) classroom in Roanoke appears to be sleight of hand. But in reality, what appears as magic is the result of thought, creativity and organized effort between James M. Steele Accelerated High School’s students, faculty and administrators. The bkm – Total Office of Texas team and Steelcase, the leading global furniture manufacturer, enabled the high school’s innovative students to turn their vision into reality. Sponsoring its second annual “Flip this Classroom” contest, the transformation of the high school’s CTE room is, an opportunity for us to demonstrate our long standing commitment to education by providing engaging, active learning spaces that inspire both students and teachers. Flyers and emails were distributed to northern Texas middle and high schools requesting “creative digital” presentations about why their classroom needed a new layout and how active learning solutions from Steelcase would help facilitate their objective. Linda Parker – Ed.D, one of four judges for the contest stated, “I was extremely impressed with the level of creativity submitted by all of the entries. They not only displayed a high level of organized group work, but also talent and creativity. They showed a clear understanding of what elements are needed for a strong, productive learning environment.”

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Opened in 2010 as part of Northwest Independent School District, James M. Steele Accelerated High School emphasizes collegiate style learning that focuses on career and college pathways. With a small population of 150 students, its non-traditional setting for independent and dependent education requires mobile, flexible and technology accessible classrooms.

On November 19, 2014 James M. Steele Accelerated High School’s student body gathered for their customary weekly assembly. What began as ordinary became extraordinary. The announcement that their school won the $40,000 prize brought cheers and applause. Three months later, students entered their refurbished classroom. According to Trey Harris – Education Specialist with bkm, their animated responses and exclamations were, “…like they were in Disneyworld.”

Prior to the renovation of their CTE classroom, students turned desks backward in order to view projected visual material and presentations. They sat “side saddle” while working on computers in the lab area. Collaboration was difficult, because moving furniture into circles was cumbersome. Lack of storage space required that backpacks be stowed on the floor. Integrating flexibility and accessibility was a top priority when designing the new classroom.

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Chili red Buoy stools and Node chairs punctuate CTE’s sleek new graphite, white and black classroom environment. Also provided by Steelcase are Verb pupil tables that slide and pivot, and a mobile instructor station. Laptops and white-boards dock into Verb tables. Backpacks stow on circular platforms beneath chairs. All furniture glides on casters, making it easy for participants to reconfigure as needed. Noting that their previous classroom layout was, “An ergonomic nightmare,” Rachelle Cooper – Career & Technology Education instructor at James M. Steele Accelerated High School states, “Now that everything is on wheels, the transition time between lectures, discussion, peer collaboration and group work takes mere seconds.” Mrs. Robin Ellis – Principal of James M. Steele Accelerated High School remarks, “This new classroom allows students to experience work settings similar to some of our nation’s most successful companies.”

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series said, “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” Evidenced by the transformation of Mrs. Cooper’s CTE classroom in James M. Steele Accelerated High School, magic is not required to transform our world, or the classroom. All that is needed is a high level of imagination, creativity and collaboration between determined students and dedicated community members.