When Barb Brown's sixth-graders return to their classroom on Thursday, there's likely to be some oohs and ahhs.
After moving to a temporary space, the Stanton School students will return to find their room completely made over. Entirely rearranged, streamlined and decluttered, the new space is designed to foster better learning.
"They are going to think this is so cool," Brown said. "Any kind of change can stimulate for the better. This should be great."
The classroom makeovers at the Fox Lake middle school are just one part of a three-year effort to improve reading skills at Stanton and Lotus schools in District 114.
The district contracted with Florida-based Smart Schools Training and Research. The group specializes in transforming classrooms into efficient centers of learning, says Associate Superintendent for Instruction Sandra Schuenemann.
"The Smart School idea fits perfectly with our latest effort to improve reading," Schuenemann said. "We've spent the last three years focusing on professional development and teacher training. This will definitely foster better reading skills in our students."
Former teacher April DeCesare founded Smart Schools 10 years ago. She says there's plenty of room for improvement in most school rooms. She said hodgepodge arrangements can work against the learning environment.
"Most classrooms are more teacher-friendly than student-friendly," DeCesare said. "The way things are laid out may be convenient for the teacher but doesn't always contribute to better learning."
Getting help from a handful of Stanton teachers, DeCesare completely emptied Brown's room on Monday morning. The crew spent at least nine hours setting up learning stations, moving desks, hanging new learning based decorations and generally de-junking the classroom.
DeCesare estimates her group has completed makeovers in at least 500 schools across the country. Their services include the makeover of one classroom along with teacher training sessions. Those teachers go on to train others in their buildings on how to do their own makeovers. DeCesare said the average fee for their service is $4,500.
"The schools use their existing furniture, desks and other equipment so there is no cost for new items," DeCesare said. "Everything is rearranged in a purposeful way."
The special areas include a "writer's workshop" and "classroom library." There is a small group discussion table, too.
"This is warm and inviting," DeCesare said. "The right environment has a huge impact on learning."