A gray “hokki” stool and a black “wiggle seat” sit on a desk in Bonnie Schatzman’s classroom at Hillside. Several Montclair teachers are experimenting with “flexible seating:” different types of chairs and seats to help students feel more at ease. PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Imagine being a student going into the classroom.

But instead of only rows of identical desks, there may be a high desk that you can stand at, with a special hinged bar that you can push back and forth with your foot.

Or there may be a yoga ball or a special “wiggle seat” you can sit on.

The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence gave a grant to several teachers across the district to buy “alternative seating.”

Alternative seating, also known as flexible seating, involves allowing students to use different types of seating in the classroom, rather than requiring them to spend all of their time at a traditional desk and chair.

Bonnie Schatzman, who teaches third grade at Hillside, is one of the teachers who received a grant from the MFEE.

“They love being able to sit where it feels best for them,” she said during an interview after school on Friday.

Schatzman had started doing research into flexible seating and alternative seating, and on its perceived effects in the classroom.

With her portion of the grant money, she invested in several gray plastic “Hokki” (pronounced “hokey”) stools. The stools have curved bottoms, so that students sitting on them must use their core muscles in order to stay upright. Her classroom also has a few denim beanbag chairs, which she purchased with her own budget, two sky-blue yoga balls with extra balancers on them, and a set of wiggle seats.

The Hokki stools were expensive, she said; each stool costs $120.

During the first week of school, Schatzman had each of her students sign a flexible seating pledge, which is displayed on a poster at the back of the classroom. Each student had to promise that they would use the seats properly.

When asked what parents thought of it, she said, “Awesome. When parents find out what’s going on, it’s like they’re thankful.”

She said that she’d learned in her research that children aren’t moving around as much during the school day as they once did. “Everything is so structured in their day, from the beginning to the end and in between.”

Fourth-grade teacher Stephanie LaVail has two standing desks in the classroom that she shares with one other teacher at Charles H. Bullock School. The standing desks have fidget bars at the bottom; a student can push the bar back and forth with their foot while using the desk. She also has a set of floor chairs known as “Back Jacks,” a couple of denim-covered ottomans that double as storage bins, and a couple of wiggle seats, or “bubble seats,” which are inflated textured vinyl cushions. Students need their core muscles in order to keep their balance and stay seated on bubble seats.

When students are seated on the rug at the front of the classroom for group lessons, a student may choose to use one of the Back Jack seats.

LaVail says she allows students to use the seats on an as-needed basis: those who are more likely to need a wiggle seat or a standing desk, for physical or mental reasons, are given priority when choosing seats.

She also says her students were given a lesson at the start of the school year on how to safely use the chairs.

Marion Kozma, a house leader and in-class support teacher at Glenfield, reported that the seating options were very beneficial to students. “My hope is that we can gain access to more standing desks so that each and every classroom teacher can offer it as an option,” she said via email. She added that several teachers at the school were interested in getting standing desks for their own use.

Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, MFEE’s executive director, said earlier this fall that the MFEE had received requests for alternative seating funding several years ago, mainly from general education teachers.

“Special needs teachers had been using them in self-contained classrooms, so the requests from general ed teachers [were] important because it meant that gen ed teachers recognized their value for a wide range of students, not just those who have been classified as having special needs,” she said.

“What we have learned from teachers is that these seating options are not necessarily helpful for all students, but they provide much-needed options for many students who need to exert little bursts of energy throughout the day to increase their focus.”