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Del Mar school district aims to remake classrooms as ‘modern learning studios’

Del Mar Union School District
(Kristina Houck)

With new standards demanding student collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication, the Del Mar Union School District is looking for ways to transform its schools’ classrooms into “modern learning studios” to meet students’ learning needs.

As Superintendent Holly McClurg told the board at its May 27 meeting, gone are the days when classrooms resembled factories with rows of desks. In a modern classroom, there is no “front of the class” — everything can be educational space.

“Students need environments suited to their learning needs,” she said. “We must do everything we can to set the stage for optimal learning.”

McClurg said they must provide space for students that invites creativity and independence — that inspires the next “moon shot” thinkers and prepares them for jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

Carmel Del Mar Principal Jessica Morales said that about a year ago, the district embarked on exploring how to change learning environments into innovation centers. A team held more 70 meetings and visited different campuses as well as the Thinkabit lab at Qualcomm, a hands-on classroom where students can fully integrate science, technology, engineering and art.

A March 24 facilities workshop had more than 60 people in attendance to provide input on modern learning centers and determine what that would look like in the Del Mar district.

“Students deserve environments that inspire,” Morales said, noting that most classrooms use furniture that is uncomfortable and inflexible.

She said when she walks around her campus, she finds students clustered on rugs, working together at outdoor lunch tables or seeking out comfortable spots by lying on the floor.

The district has identified pilot classrooms at Sage Canyon and Carmel Del Mar School for furniture trials. Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero said they brought in a “truckload” of furniture and received feedback from students.

Romero said students really gravitated to bar-height desks where they could sit or stand to work. When he asked students what they wished they had more of in their classrooms, students asked for bright colors on the wall, more comfortable chairs with wheels, “furniture that is fluffy,” and beanbag chairs.

Romero said the pilot classrooms would continue in three fourth-grade classrooms at Sage Canyon and in third-grade classrooms at Carmel Del Mar. The district is also exploring how it will transform libraries into “innovation centers.”

San Dieguito Union High School District has embarked on a similar goal, with new media centers at its high schools and middle schools ,like Carmel Valley Middle School. The district thinned the book stacks to create more open spaces with soft furniture, tables and chairs on wheels that can be configured in different ways, and bar-height work stations. Superintendent Rick Schmitt has remarked that the media centers have become a favorite gathering spot for students on the campuses.


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