Christmas came early to a combination class of second- and third-graders at Fromberg Elementary on Tuesday.
The 14 students walked wide-eyed into their remodeled classroom Tuesday, taking in the bright-orange walls, new desks, snazzy lime-green and turquoise chairs and carpeting to match.
“Whoa!” “Oh, my gosh!” and “This is awesome!” were a few of the exclamations heard as they surveyed their remodeled surroundings.
The unveiling was the result of a contest for all the school districts in the state, sponsored by 360 Office Solutions and CTA Architects Engineers for a $25,000 classroom makeover. Teachers from about 50 schools in Montana sent in essays explaining why they thought their classrooms deserved the prize, as well as photos of their present setup.
The entries were pared to the final three, and participants at the October Montana Conference for Educational Leadership were asked to vote for the winner. That turned out to be the second- and third-grade class from Fromberg.
Third-grade teacher Deb Hayes and second-grade teacher Breanna Todd submitted the winning entry. Dropping enrollment led the school to combine two grades in one classroom for the first time, which created a challenge, Todd said.
“I think just with having two of us in here, two classrooms and two teachers, it was hard to keep them all on task, trying to do two different lessons,” she said.
Hayes often had to take her third-graders to a vacant classroom in the adjacent high school to help them better focus. The new dividers that also double as storage containers will provide a spatial solution to problem.
Hayes said her first priority was the students.
“The first thing that we asked for were new desks and chairs for the students because, of course, this is all about the students and making it a more comfortable situation for them,” she said.
The chairs are designed for wriggly youngsters, said Vic Shay, regional sales manager for 360 Office Solutions.
“These are sized chairs, and they’ve got some flexibility built into them because we’re not static creatures and kids tend to move around,” Shay said. “The chairs are designed for motion, with the thought that a child’s attention span can stay intact for a longer period of time.”
Even the orange paint was applied with a purpose, said Terri Coyle, senior interior designer for CTA Architects Engineers. The brightly colored paint was applied to two walls because there are technically two classrooms in the same space.
“Research shows that if you put a bright color on the teaching wall that it will keep the kids’ attention better and help them focus a little bit better,” she said.
The actual renovation took place in a hurry. Hayes organized coworkers, family and parents to clear out the room Friday. Painting started Saturday and finished Sunday.
Carpet was installed Monday and then the furniture was assembled and put in place. Carpet was donated and installed by Pierce Flooring, and Sherwin Williams donated the paint.
Combining the two classes doubled the clutter in the room, Hayes said, which the new design helped alleviate.
"This really organized it and freed up some room so we'd have more room to do things," she said.
Hayes is extremely familiar with her classroom. She has taught in the room for more than 20 years, but long before that, she attended Fromberg Elementary and spent third grade in that very room.
"So this was like, wow, brand new," she said.
The question for Hayes and all the adults in the room — what would the youngsters think? — was quickly answered. After the students found their desks, sat down and took in their surroundings, Hayes asked them if they liked it.
“Yes!” they said emphatically.