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SEMINOLE – Soft lamp light, comfy bean bag chairs, lots of thriving plants, soothing music and a greater sense of relaxation now fill Michelle Diaz’ gifted classroom at Seminole Elementary.
A mat emblazoned with butterflies welcomes visitors, a green, leafy vine winds around the walls near the ceiling and a large bullfrog croaks when someone enters the classroom now called The Swamp.
Such are the new types of environmental elements added to two rooms at the elementary school.
This was part of the extreme classroom makeover July 29 and 30. This plan used research-based strategies to decorate and arrange the rooms to best meet the learning needs of students. The redesign plan was based on the work of Eric Jensen, Brain-Based Learning and Super Teaching and Lucy Calkins, The Art of Teaching Reading.
The concept of a gathering area was central to the make over. “This space is to create a place to have authentic conversation in the classroom,” said Principal Bonnie Cangelosi. The entire class can gather on the floor in a calmer, more relaxed way to have meaningful discussions.
The design team consisted of three teachers who successfully have used the strategies in their classrooms for the past few years – Lona Knellinger, kindergarten and first-grade emotionally handicapped students; Cindy Mucerino, kindergarten; Jan Scott, second grade; Jenny Barr, reading coach and Bonnie Cangelosi, the school’s principal.
The team put a creative touch on the project by randomly selecting two teachers to have their rooms redesigned. Then, they surprised them with the results, just like on the popular television show, Extreme Makeover.
Cangelosi and Barr had attended a summer conference dealing with new learning strategies and brainstormed a way to engage the staff in a positive manner. Michelle Diaz’ gifted classroom received the “swamp” treatment while Sabina Moon’s fifth grade got more of a “beachy” motif.
While the environment and teaching strategies might have changed somewhat, one thing remained constant: The educators’ enthusiasm. Both teachers, Michelle Diaz and Sabina Moon, were quite pleased with their surprises. “I just love it. It’s beautiful,” said Diaz as she was allowed to open her eyes inside the classroom for the first time. “It has so much more room.”