SCCS changes junior high classroom look

Seventh-grader Judah Baart reads with second-grader Colin Hulstein on ball-like chairs, one of the various flexible seating options available to Sioux Center Christian School junior high students this year.

SIOUX CENTER—Standing at desks. Wiggling on a ball-like chair. Lounging in a bucket seat.

Sioux Center Christian School seventh- and eighth-grade students have choice in their classrooms this year due to the incorporation of flexible seating options.

“We’re always seeking to do as much as we can to meet student needs,” said head of school Josh Bowar. “As we continue to look at the needs of the students we have, having flexible seating met that in different ways.”

One of those ways was fitting the teaching and learning styles happening in today’s classrooms.

“Teachers, especially in junior high, like to have more varied ways of grouping students for them to work collaboratively,” said reading teacher Autumn Den Boer.

Frustrated with static rows of clunky desks, Den Boer tested out this trendy flexible seating idea by grouping students in her classroom in pods.

“I got bed risers from Walmart to put the tables up high, I got some stools,” she said. “I made the cheap version of flexible seating to give it a try. It gave students a little more movement in their day. Seventh- and eighth-grade students have a lot of energy and I really felt like this was the way to add a little more movement in their day.”

She shared the results of her experiment with her fellow junior high teachers and school administration. All were on board in seeking options for every seventh- and eighth-grade classroom. The cost was a three-way support between the school’s general budget, its PACE (parent group) and Dordt College.

Rigid rows of desks have all been replaced with different types of flexible seating, depending on the subject being taught in the classroom.

“That was done, too, because we wanted each classroom to have a different feel,” Den Boer said. “We wanted the students to have variety in their day so it wasn’t boring the way that they were seating and be better for their bodies too.”

“We also wanted to respect the type of learning that happens in each classroom,” she continued. “That started with teachers thinking about the learning they wanted to have happen. In my classroom, I like to have a lot of collaborating so I wanted to make sure my seating worked for that, but I also like to have them do individual reading. I wanted to make sure it was comfortable but also that they had space, that the students were not so jammed on each other so that I could do one-on-one conferencing.”

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Seventh-grader Kandence Driesen and fifth-grader Zoey Eggebeen grab some buckets, one of the various flexible seating options available to Sioux Center Christian School junior high students this year.

Den Boer utilizes standing and sitting tables as well as bucket seats. The science classroom utilizes all furniture that can go up and down to allow students to be able to work at different levels. The writing classroom includes swivel chairs and ball-like seats.

“I know our writing teacher wanted to provide a variety of seating for students that helps keep kids on task,” Den Boer said. “On the ball seat students have to be sitting up to use it well. It seems to enhance their concentration. Some chairs have a wiggle, swivel option. Not every student had one but since we see a lot more kids that have sensory needs, this was a way to meet those sensory needs without pointing those students out. Kids in seventh- and eighth-grade don’t like to be pointed out. This way everybody gets it.”

Another need met by flexible seating is giving this age group something to look forward to.

“We want that time in their life for seventh- and eighth-graders to feel like they’re building up to something and we wanted to have something special that honors their ability to make choices and their ability to be self-driven learners,” Den Boer said. “This type of seating gives these students something a bit different and more independence. Too, seventh- and eighth-grade can sometimes have that attitude of feeling a bit jaded and forgotten. This really made them feel special and unique.”

“It helps us treat them as young adults and helps them to grow into being respective, responsible, Christian young adults,” Bowar added.

Den Boer has seen positive impact on the students.

“At the beginning of the school year I saw a lot more movement so as a teacher I had to get used to seeing so much movement, but the kids were actually calmer,” she said. “There’s a lot more calm and peace in my room for sure.”

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Second-grader Haylee Hoogendoorn reads with seventh-grader Hanah Clemens on swivel chairs last Monday as part of Sioux Center Christian School’s Literacy Week. The chairs are one of the various flexible seating options available to Sioux Center Christian School junior high students this year. 

The seating has even impacted Den Boer’s teaching style.

“I’ve noticed I can teach from any place in the room now because the kids are at all different angles,” she said. “With the desks kids were all facing the same way and I’d have to be in the front. Now I can read to them from anywhere because they’re all around me, which I like. I think it builds community.”