New flexible seating options at Berthoud El help kids thrive

By Katie Harris
The Surveyor

First graders at Berthoud El like to use the ball chairs in the classroom.
Photo by Rebekah Beckett

The classrooms at Berthoud Elementary would hardly be recognizable to someone who hadn’t seen them since the beginning of the school year. Thanks to two separate grants, every classroom in the building received new and improved seating options over the course of the 2016-17 schoolyear.
“I came up with the flexible seating idea after doing research on social, emotional and brain-based learning,” said Rebekah Beckett, school health office aid. “One of our school health initiatives for the past two years has been to increase physical activity in the classroom. They do this a lot in Sweden and Norway, which is where I first heard of it.”
Beckett applied for two grants, the Healthy Schools Mini Grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and the Thompson Education Foundation Founders Grant. She received word the school had received the mini grant in the amount of $2,500 last fall; the founders grant of $2,490 was awarded to the school this March.
“We had applied for the mini grant three years ago and didn’t get it, so I didn’t expect it this year and was so excited,” said Beckett.
The purpose of the mini grant, which is a state-wide grant, is to support physical activity during the school day. Applicants were required to submit plans for the grant which aligned with the health improvement plan the school’s wellness committee prepares for the state each year. Throughout the course of the year the wellness committee must complete three surveys to the grant committee on the effectiveness of the plan they are using the grant for.
The founders grant is awarded to schools within the Thompson district to fund student-centered experiences that take place school wide. By applying for the grant, the school agrees to be filmed the following fall and featured during the Thompson Education Foundation’s presentation on grants at their annual educator breakfast.
Thanks to the two grants, the school recently purchased the final items needed to provide flexible seating options in every classroom, grades K-5, as well as in intervention and specialist rooms.
“We have under-desk peddlers, stand-up desk convertors, ball chairs, tension bands for kids to kick against, and wobble cushions,” said Beckett. “We also have stand-up art easels for kindergarteners who can’t write sitting at their desks very easily with their developing motor skills.”
Beckett said the new seating items are available to every student, and teachers have developed different methods for ensuring each student has equal opportunity to try out every option, including taking turns with a roster, random name drawing, and first-come-first-served.
Fifth-grade teacher Barbara Ewing said the stand-up desk converters have been especially popular with her students, including one young gymnast who she said reported standing helped her “think better.”
“These tools are all the rage,” said Ewing. “Kids try them and are then able to self-advocate for which ones help them and which do not.”
Annamarie Pike, who teaches kindergarten at Berthoud El, said she’s been a huge fan of the student-centered classroom model for years. She said the art easels have been the biggest improvement in the kindergarten classrooms.
“Art at an easel, or any slanted or vertical surface, encourages appropriate hand and wrist position and stabilization, which is important for fine motor and handwriting,” said Pike. “It also allows for opportunities to cross the midline, improve upper body strength, and of course all the implications it has regarding creativity and the visual arts.”
Beckett said the wellness committee is currently collecting feedback from teachers and students school wide via a survey, and will take the results into consideration when determining how to move forward in the fall.
“We have to choose another two-year goal to commit to for next year,” said Beckett. “Depending on the survey results, we’ll either continue on the path of flexible seating, tweak our plan, or come up with something new altogether.”
Whatever the survey results indicate, one thing is clear: school-wide flexible seating wouldn’t have even been on the table this year without the two grants.
“Without the grants this would have been a much slower process,” said Beckett. “We would get a few things each year through our Jogathon and PTA, but it would have taken at least 5 to 10 years to get to where we are now, and we would have had to work one grade level at a time.”
Beckett said the students seem to adore the new options, and many staff members have already been asking for more.
“We are so thankful for this amazing opportunity to help our students be successful and happy in the classroom environment,” said Pike. “I am loving the new options.”

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