OBERLIN — Some classrooms at Langston Middle School are starting to look more like trendy cafes, with yoga balls and bean bags replacing traditional desk seating.
Amanda Kochmit, a special education teacher at the school, was awarded a grant in October from the Oberlin Endowment Fund for $6,500 to implement this flexible seating, called Project HYPE - helping youth participate equally.
The grant paid for alternative seating and fidget toy kits for about seven classrooms with the goal of allowing students with disabilities to participate in the least-restrictive environment possible.
Teachers say they've already noticed a difference in their students. One student, Kochmit said, was a "frequent flier" to the principal's office but after he was put at a standing desk - a taller desk with an option to stand or sit on a stool - he stopped having as many behavioral incidents.
Sheryl Strayer, a sixth-grade teacher, said students beg every day to sit on one of the few yoga ball seats in her classroom. She awards them to the first students to show up every day, an incentive to get to class on time.
Kochmit said flexible seating allows students to move around in a quiet and nondistracting way during a lesson, which gives them a positive way to burn off energy while still paying attention.
In Langston Middle School, where 44 of the 240 students have been diagnosed with a disability, it can make a big impact.
The flexible seating right now includes yoga ball chairs, stand up desks, wobble stools, bouncy bands and fidget toys such as stress balls.
Kochmit hopes to apply for more grants next year to fund flexible seating for other schools in the district.
The hope is that with seating and fidget toys, fewer students will need to be removed from the classroom because of sensory issues or behavior.
Kochmit keeps a small trampoline in her classroom for downtime when she isn't teaching. She said research has found that flexible seating extends teaching time by about 9 minutes per hour, resulting in 135 more hours of learning per year.