Novi Woods Elementary School

Novi Woods Elementary School is one of five K-4 elementary schools in the Novi Community School Disctrict, about 25 minles northwest of Detroit, Novi Woods Elementary School strives to develop students who are respectful, responsible, and successful citizens both academnically and socially. The classrooms are clustered into grade-level teams, and each team works closely to coordinate the teaching of the curriculum and to evaluate the progress of our students. In all, the public school district serves over 6,000 students in grades K-12.


Location Novi, Michigan

Number of People Served Over 460 students, K-4, and 20 classroom teachers

Sales Representative Contact Information Jim Seibold of Seibold Baker Associates, Perrysburg, OH

Dealer Contact Information Steve Cojei, Interior Environments

Designer Laura Casai, TMP Architecture

The Need

Elementary students today have different needs than those a generation before them. Not only are educational tools and outcomes changing, but even learning styles have been rapidly shifting over the past decade-- a fact that hasn't been missed by fourth grade teacher Michelle Donberger and three of her colleagues at Novi Woods' Elementary School.

"About three years ago we all started noticing the needs of kids were changing," Donberger says. "They were so much more wiggly, and they're used to being entertained all the time in their lives. So we started experimenting with different types of seating and different places for kids to go and work, to see how it affected their focus."

Right away, Donberger noticed a difference, as did her co-teacher Sally Chandler and two kindergarten teachers, Lauren Himle and Jodi Balconi, who were also experimenting with the setup of their shared classroom.

It was not just the kids who were changing, but the curriculum was changing, too-- from a more teacher-directed format to a student-centered, collaborative "workshop" approach.

"We began to realize the old style of the space didn't match the new style of instruction at all," Balconi says.

The four teachers put their heads together to begin discussing how they could plan-- and pay-- for new classroom furniture and designs.

"We started talking about the needs and solutions and looked into grants, trying to get some funding together," Chandler says. "We had to get really creative to get money-- we got some here and there and it added up."

During the summer of 2013, some of the teachers ran into izzy+ dealer Steve Cojei, whose three children had gone to Novi Woods. Cojei got excited abou tthe project and brought in Brandon Reame, izzy+'s learning space expert.

"They were unbelievable," says Donberger. "They sat down and really listened to our needs-- they were actually interested in our classes and our students."

Designer Laura Casai was also enlisted to help as the team began the design process that summer. In March 2014, the new classrooms were installed.

The izzy+ Solution

For a fun, flexible spin on traditional tables and chairs, both classrooms include areas with low "sushi tables" (modified-height Clara Team 44s) and upholstered Forum ottomans that function as stools.

Each classroom also has flexible table configurations for individual or group work. Groupings of Clara Diamonds in the kindergarten room can be used separately or pushed together to accommodate groups of six students. In the fourth grade room, Dewey 6-tops offer the same flexibility and feature writable surfaces.

"We wanted the furniture to be flexible and moveable so the kids can move the tables together or apart as needed," explains Balconi.

Mobile Dewey Buddy lecterns replace traditional teacher desks, giving the teachers more flexibility.

"Bringing Dewey Buddy into the project was important," says Cojei. "It really changed how the teachers and students interact, and it provides another place for that interaction. I think it's important to let teachers teach from where they want and need to be in the classroom, not just from the front."

The finished classrooms are everything the teachers hoped they would be-- and even more.

"We noticed right away how well the furniture went along with how we're teaching now, but it also changed how we were teaching," Donberger says. "It helped us try some new things and stop doing some things that didn't make sense any more. The furniture not only impacted the students but it also impacted us as teachers, and how we did curriculum."

The teachers have noticed the impact of the space on their students, too.

"When I started the writers workshop in the old classroom, the kids were sitting at their desks and were really distracted," says kindergarten teacher Lauren Himle. "Now we let them go whereever they are confortable working. It completely changes how they work and how long they are able to work. They clearly enjoy writing more because of it."

Balconi agrees. "The mood a space puts you in as soon as you enter it is huge. As soon as you see these rooms you know something exciting and progressive is happening."

Most importantly, having so much flexibility and so many options in each classroom helps shift how the students perceive their learning experience.

"We encourage kids to get to know themselves as learners-- to make notes about how they learn best and then to make the most of that by finding spaces that work for them," Donberger says. "Learning is student-driven now. We say to our students all the time 'You're in charge of your learning-- I'm not in charge of your learning.'"

With such great results to share, the teachers are eager to spread the word to parents and other teachers.

"We have to educate people on why furniture really matters," Balconi says. "It isn't just about what looks good, it actually changes how engaged the students are and how they learn."