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 Changing Classroom Culture, One Table at a Time

How much of a difference can furniture make in the classroom?

For students at San Diego SOAR Academy's East Mesa campus, new tables and chairs have helped to change the culture and lessons in the classroom.

By replacing worn-out, one-person desks with the new furniture, not only does the classroom look more inviting for students, but teachers are also able to have lessons that are more collaborative and encourage more communication.

"It seems to create a different culture in the classroom," said Nathan Head, site administrator at the East Mesa school. "Students are talking to each other, not only about instruction, but also as peers."

Teachers also now have more options for how their classrooms are set up.

The new digs are part of a larger effort to continue improving the culture at the school, which is operated in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) as part of its Momentum Learning portfolio of schools.

"It's one spoke in the wheel of changing the entire culture here," Head said.

Other improvements include technology upgrades and more opportunities to learn from experts in the community.

The new look of the classrooms was partly inspired by similar changes at one of the units at the San Diego SOAR Academy's Kearny Mesa school. These changes have helped increase communication and collaboration among students, Head said.

Getting the old desks out of and the new furniture into the locked facility wasn't a simple project. SDCOE's Maintenance and Operations team helped with the process, which was done without disrupting class time for students.

The new classroom layout at the East Mesa site fits in nicely with recent changes to state academic standards, which call for more collaboration, problem solving, and academic discourse.

"It changed the dynamic of a classroom and what it should look like when we got new state standards," Head said. "Students shouldn't be doing work in isolation."