Many teachers dip into their own pockets to buy what’s needed for their students and classroom.
Crothersville Elementary School teachers Keeli Bowling and Natasha Lewis discovered that reaching out for a little help can bring their classroom dreams to life.
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Late last year, they created online fundraising pages at donorschoose.org to be able to purchase items to offer flexible seating in their rooms.
In just a week, Lewis, the fifth-grade teacher at the school, had the nearly $500 she needed. And it only took two weeks for Bowling, a fourth-grade teacher, to have the $541 she needed.
Lewis purchased four exercise balls, four wobble seats, five lap desks and cushions, while Bowling bought four exercise balls, a large rug, a beanbag chair, two lamps, three light filters and a few books.
Lewis said once she posted the link on Facebook, friends, family members and parents of her students began making donations. She also had five anonymous donors, including one from Minnesota.
“It was very heartwarming to see that people actually cared about my students,” Lewis said. “Half of them, I didn’t even know them, but they care enough about the future of our country and that this generation is going to be contributing to that, so they cared enough to get them the stuff that they need to really be comfortable and take risks to focus and do well in school.”
Bowling said she received a lift during the trial period of fundraising when every donation was matched. Fellow teachers were among her donors.
“It’s super-surprising, but it’s also nice to know that we have support because I feel like a lot of times, especially setting up a classroom for the first time, we don’t have a bunch of the networking, so it’s nice to know there are other people around us that support us that can help us,” she said.
Bowling said she learned about donorschoose.org during college.
“A lot of our professors in education were like, ‘Hey, these are good things for you to get stuff, especially first-year teachers,’” she said. “It’s great to have something because setting up a classroom is expensive.”
While creating the online fundraiser, the teachers described their students, listed what they wanted to purchase and explained how the items would help.
“I set up my classroom very family-oriented, so I wanted it to be a safe place, especially where my kiddos could be comfortable,” Bowling said. “Having the different seating arrangement helped that because they have the freedom to sit where they want.”
Since there is only a limited amount of each type of flexible seating, Bowling rolls a dice to determine what kind students can use and goes through rotations.
The rug is a good place to read a story, watch a video or have a group conversation, she said.
“It’s kind of like our living room,” she said. “Rugs are a whole lot better. The cold ground is not super-great to sit on.”
The light filters also have made a positive impact by taking the brightness out of the room.
“I hate fluorescent lights because it gives it a classroom feel, whereas if I have the lamps and I have the light filters, it kind of dims that so it feels more at home,” Bowling said. “That’s why I did it, to make them feel comfortable because they learn better when they are comfortable.”
Fourth-grader Nathan Copple said he likes the exercise ball the most.
“I get to bounce,” he said, smiling. “It’s more comfortable. It helps you focus.”
Classmate Raegan Wray favors the rug.
“Whenever we can come down here, it helps me look up there (at the whiteboard),” she said. “I have a rug at home, and I just sit on it while I’m doing my homework.”
Fourth-graders Jude Howard and Baylee Tatlock said they like sitting in the beanbag chair, which is in the corner next to the classroom door with a lamp behind it.
“At home when I do my homework, I always sit in a beanbag chair,” Howard said. “I do better when I feel like I’m at home. It makes it a little bit easier (to learn).”
Tatlock said she likes when she gets chosen to sit in the beanbag chair.
“Because beanbag chairs are awesome,” she said, smiling. “It helps me concentrate because I like how it sort of molds around you because it’s really soft.”
Lewis said she chose the flexible seating items to help the “wiggly kids” in her classroom.
“They are kids. They need to be up and moving,” she said. “I try to get them up and moving as much as possible, but sometimes, it’s hard. You can’t be teaching them how to do a math operation and have them moving around the room. They have to be in their seats, so I got the cushions and I got the exercise balls so that way, whenever they are at their seat, we can still have that movement going on.”
Her students also do a lot of independent time, so the lap desks and rugs can be used for that.
“Sometimes, when you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to do your best work, so expecting them to stay at their tables for seven hours a day is not necessarily in their best interest,” she said. “So the lap desks and the rugs, they can move around the floor and do their best work independently, as well.”
Lewis still has some of the tables her students used to sit at in case any of them don’t want to use the flexible seating. She said she is working toward 100 percent flexible seating.
She has noticed positive changes in her students since changing the classroom.
“Before, we were really, really chatty. We’re still chatty,” she said, smiling. “But we’re definitely more focused. I feel like they are more comfortable, so I’ve seen a little bit more improvement in their work during independent time. I’ve definitely noticed that they stay focused longer than they did before, and they know to pick a right seat if they are not in the right seat.”
Lewis said it’s important for the kids to pick a seat that allows them to do their best work, even if they are around their friends.
“I think that also encourages them to take risks because some people who never used to raise their hand will now raise their hand, and I think it’s because they are by their friends,” she said. “They are allowed to be by their friends if they are making a really good choice.”
That collaboration is key, she said.
“Because when you are in the workplace, you’re collaborating all of the time,” she said. “There’s not hardly any job where you work fully by yourself, so I want them to get used to working with others.”
Fifth-graders James Collman and Zoey Prince like the flexible seating.
Both favor the exercise balls.
“You get bored in desks. If you sit on the exercise balls, you don’t get bored, and you are entertained,” Collman said.
“They keep my feet busy and help me not move my hands around,” Prince said. “It helps me with my learning. Most students have been focusing on tests, and it’s a lot quieter when it’s test time.”