wooded hills – John Foster, a senior at Central High, didn’t think the administrators would be very interested in what he and his classmates thought about how and where they were learning.
But having a few of their ears recently “kinda pushed me past” that thought, he said.
John was one of about 30 students in English teacher Anne Keller’s composition class who spent around a month working on a proposal to improve the learning environment at their school.
They recently presented their findings to Principal Steve Passinault, School Board President Mary Vonck and Vice President Marti Atwater, among others.
At the top of Central High School students’ wish list: faster Wi-Fi, comfortable seating that can be easily moved around for focused collaboration or study, and lighting that doesn’t cause headaches.
What they would get rid of if they could: classroom jumpsuits with a desk chair and hard seats, fluorescent lights on the ceiling, and a slow internet connection.
Modernizing the school’s furniture isn’t expected for about five years, Keller told his students.
“I just thought that instead of asking them to write a traditional research paper, I wanted them to have more real-world experience,” she said. “It’s really good for them to be able to see that writing is everywhere, and the traditional research paper is not what people do” in a post-educational setting.
Project-Based Writing Class
The seniors worked in three groups, each with a single objective: furniture, space design and technology. They have made a survey available to all students in the school to get their opinion on what learning is currently in the three areas and how they think it could be improved.
Then they visited the Ada Township Branch of the Kent District Library, the Grand Rapids Town Center Market and the Innovation High School on the Kent ISD campus and learned from the principals of the installations what happened in the design of these spaces.
Then they put all their work together in a multimedia presentation and, before the winter break, presented their research and findings to Passinault, Vonck and Atwater, as well as Michael Posthumus, Senior Learning Designer at Fielding. International, an education design firm, which guided the project.
The presentation included survey results such as 97% of students saying they want more seating options. A majority cited seating comfort as the most important when it comes to furnishings, along with information on cost, material longevity, and sustainability measures taken or promised by specific companies.
The proposed improvements were not only meant to be cosmetic, but were backed up by sources that showed improved student concentration and test scores, as well as energy savings.
Student voice, heard
Passinault said several points raised by students at Central High align with the work that has gone into the design and recent additions at Eastern High, as well as the recently completed linking work at Northern High. He told them that lighting upgrades could be tackled “maybe as early as this summer”.
Vonck called the presentation “amazing from start to finish” and recommended sharing it with a wider audience.
Says Keller, “It’s so important to help students feel heard and part of decision-making. Trying to give them voice and agency is a huge motivator for how I shape the research project. »
She also gave them props for their work.
“I was hoping the nature of the project and the presentation would highlight the way learning should be – leveraging different disciplines, adding field research, forming community partnerships… all the good things the world demands people, and good for the elderly in mind in this world.
For John, the project had added value besides feeling heard. He entered the senior composition class thinking he would just learn how to format and write better essays.
“I got way more out of it than that,” he said. “I’m not a big talker, so that was another plus as well. And one important thing that we have seen is that there are many points of view and different paths of research that you can come across.
And while writing isn’t his forte, John admitted that taking an interest in one aspect of the project – learning about volatile organic compounds – piqued his interest. “I love science, so learning new things really inspired me to keep going. That’s why I was intrigued.