Second-graders Kelly MacRae and Katie Thompson have an unusual classroom at Hayden Meadows Elementary.
While most of their peers elsewhere in school sit in little clusters of desks or at tables, Kelly and Katie sit in rows of desks - just as their parents did when they were kids.
Until this week, the seating arrangement in their class was like most of the rest of the other classes.
But their parents’ strong belief in individual learning persuaded school officials to have the desks rearranged into rows - at least temporarily.
“I really believe that having their own space, their own desk and not having people touch it is real important,” Susan MacRae said.
MacRae and Gail Thompson see their successful efforts in their daughters’ classroom as a small victory in their larger efforts to change education for the better.
The two also have been peripherally involved with a group of local parents who are pushing school officials to get “back to the basics.”
“I feel this is a sign that maybe the administration is getting back to emphasizing basic skills,” MacRae said.
MacRae and Thompson both became more active in their school after they noticed their daughters’ inability to spell.
When dismal assessment scores in spelling and math computation came back last spring, “I started questioning what they were teaching and the methods,” MacRae said.
Thompson noticed her child developed behavioral problems in school and facial tics that disappeared when school was out.
“So I paid more attention,” Thompson said. “I noticed all the classes were sitting together in all these clusters. There was no personal space.”
When they asked why most of the classes were arranged in groups, they were told that the business community wants graduates who could work cooperatively, they said.
Tables and groups of desks are more convenient for cooperative activities.
It wasn’t until they approached Hazel Bauman, the elementary education director, that they were able to get the desks rearranged. “Where I’d like to see us get to is a choice, an eclectic view of the classroom, where you don’t do anything all of the time,” Bauman said.
Bauman confirmed that educators are trying to meet the needs of the business community.
“What we said as educators was, `Does our learning environment prepare kids to be collaborative, cooperative learners?’ And the answer was, `Perhaps not as much as it should,”’ she said.
Academic achievement was another consideration.
Research in the ‘80s showed that, if cooperative learning was managed right, students performed better academically.
The Coeur d’Alene schools started to purchase tables instead of desks about four or five years ago.
Sorensen Elementary fourthgrade teacher Sandy Medved opted for tables because they free up space in the classroom.
“I can do it either way,” she said, as the students read books quietly Friday. Just because they sit together, doesn’t mean they do all their work together, she said.
“There’s lots of times, in fact most of the day, they’re working independently,” she said.