In an event culminating months of efforts, Toms River Regional Schools hosted a grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting to mark the official opening of a new Active Learning Center located at the district’s largest high school, Toms River High School North.
The overhaul of an English classroom at the high school was made a reality after the district won Steelcase Education’s prestigious Active Learning Center Grant, valued at $65,000. High School North was 1 of 15 schools and universities chosen from nearly a thousand applications as a grant recipient this year. During the summer, dancker, a NJ-based interior solutions provider, partnered with the building staff and the district’s facilities team to transform the classroom into an interactive model classroom.
At the grand opening, the district welcomed representatives from Steelcase, dancker, Board of Education members, district administrators, community members, parents and students. After a welcome and presentation in the school’s auditorium, attendees of the event had the opportunity to view the classroom and experience firsthand the flexible seating, warm and welcoming furniture, integrated technology, and get a glimpse of exactly how these enhancements can boost student learning.
Before dozens of community members in the high school auditorium, Superintendent David Healy acknowledged that a project like the Active Learning Center was the result of a true team effort. He went on to thank everyone who was involved in the process and commended teachers Kit Coe and Mike Pape for their vision for their students.
He said, “The Active Learning Center is not just a space or room. It represents the many partnerships we have in this district and shows how we collaborate with many different departments to make great things happen in Toms River.”
Ben Giovine, president of the Toms River Board of Education said, “The Toms River Board of Education has always promoted creativity and welcomed innovative programs being introduced into the district.” He continued, “The Active Learning Center is a brilliant example of coming together to make that happen and to help further annual district literacy and funding goals.”
Mrs. Coe and Mr. Pape have been teaching their sophomore and junior English classes in the new classroom since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. The teachers were on hand at the grand opening to answer questions and demonstrate how they use the classroom furniture and technology integrations to enhance their lessons for students.
“I feel the students really like that they are able to move the furniture around. It helps me to be able to shift my lessons from being teacher-centered to having more of a focus on the student,” said Mrs. Coe. “I see this as having a positive impact on students and helps to keep them more engaged, which is the ultimate goal.”
To this point, the Active Learning Center aligns perfectly with the district’s initiative to infuse a “learner activated” style of teaching, with more student choice, independence, and hands on learning into its secondary classrooms.
Norma DeNoia, the district’s Director of Secondary Curriculum, has spearheaded this initiative and is looking forward to using this classroom as a forum to further train teachers and use it as a model to design other classrooms and spaces throughout the district.
“The new Active Learning Center is the perfect setting for Toms River’s LATIC initiative,” said Ms. DeNoia. “Teachers have been involved in extensive training and unit planning as they shift responsibility to the learner as they build executive function to prepare them for 21st century careers.”
Bobby Bragen, a 10th grader in Mr. Pape’s English class, agreed that the new classroom makes it easier to collaborate with his fellow classmates and teacher. He likes that he “can be more active during class instead of just sitting the whole time.”
The grant from Steelcase is in its third year and has only been awarded to 45 schools, colleges, and universities during that time. This year, High School North was the only school chosen in the tri-state area and is among other winners such as the University of Notre Dame and the University of Massachusetts.
“As a resident of New Jersey, I was excited that Toms River, NJ was one of the winners of this competitive grant,” said Steelcase Regional Director Dennis Guidera. He continued, “Active learning is a movement, and Steelcase is proud to be creating a group of peers around the country that supports this new style of learning and teaching. We are here to support and help [Toms River] and [they] can count on us in the future as we find out what the impact and positive results of this classroom will be in this district.”