BOE Meeting Wrap-up: Work Session on Authentic Learning/Hutchinson School

Alexander Wolff

The Pelham Board of Education took a deep dive into innovative school furnishings and the District’s Strategic Plan goal of Authentic Learning at a work session held on December 8. The work session was held at the new Hutchinson School, which is fully furnished with flexible desks, chairs, and other design elements that support a modern approach to teaching and learning.

Board of Education members and administrators tour a classroom at the new Hutchinson school showing flexible furniture

To kick off the work session, which was led by Dr. Steven Garcia, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel, Board members went on a guided scavenger hunt around the school to visit classrooms. On the hunt, Board members searched for different learning configurations in classrooms to illustrate how the new furniture can be rearranged to facilitate different types of learning, such as independent, lecture, group work, presentations, and more. Along the way, other features of the new school were highlighted, including dry-erase walls, height-adjustable TV screens, private independent study rooms and work areas in the hallways. 

After exploring the school, Dr. Garcia led a discussion with a group of administrators and teachers to reflect on the District’s progress in this area. Joining the discussion were Dr. Trisha Nugent Fitzgerald, Principal of Hutchinson School, John Sebalos, Director of Technology, Dr. Maria Thompson, Director of Humanities, Dr. Tom Callahan, Director of Math and Science, Alicia DelMastro, Instructional Technology Specialist, Emily Kayser, Prospect Hill Teacher, Kara Galiani, Siwanoy Library Specialist, Sara Pinsker, Middle School English Teacher and Steve Beltecas, PMHS Science Research/Engineering Teacher. 

John Sebalos shows off the writeable walls in a classroom at Hutchinson School

Research has shown that the innovative furniture is effective at fostering student engagement in lessons. It also makes classrooms more adaptable to different types of lessons and activities in the classroom as desks and chairs can easily be moved to accommodate direct instruction, group work, pair work, etc. During the discussion, the teachers and administrators explained that the furniture has spurred ingenuity in the classroom and created a flexible environment for students to learn and worked in concert with the District’s vision of providing authentic learning experiences, which build critical thinking and problem solving skills. 

The District has been researching and implementing innovative furniture for several years, beginning with the design and creation of MakerSpaces at each school in 2016. In the years that followed, select pilot classrooms were outfitted with the furniture. Based on the experiences in the pilot rooms, which was studied by the District’s Innovation Committee, the Pelham Education Foundation funded a major grant to redesign school libraries at the four elementary schools and middle school with the new furniture. The construction of the new Hutchinson School offered an opportunity to furnish the entire building in line with the District’s vision. Over the coming years, the District is planning to expand the use of innovative furniture across the District. 

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