Today, the redesigned media center is a world away from the “pink prison” of the past. Flexible furniture accommodates diverse activities. Collaboration spaces equipped with cutting-edge technology foster group projects and presentations. A dedicated tech center empowers students to troubleshoot their peers’ devices and acquire valuable technology skills.

Separate classroom spaces within the media center cater to various learning styles, featuring everything from a stadium seating in one area to movable tables and chairs, and can be used as a conference room ideal for focused discussions.

One of the most significant transformations lies not in the physical space but in the mindset shift. Media specialists, once hesitant to lose the library, are now embracing their new roles as facilitators and guides, creating engaging activities and supporting student-led initiatives.

DIG DEEPER: Tech-savvy librarians provide value to modern students.

The media center is now open before, during and after school, including during senior privilege and lunch periods, fostering a sense of community. A student-operated food and drink concession adds a touch of entrepreneurship and responsibility.

“It’s incredible to see students taking ownership of their learning space,” Wall says. “They understand it’s theirs, and that empowers them to use it responsibly and creatively.”

Furniture Meets Students’ Social, Emotional and Physical Needs

In schools across the country, Patti Clark has seen how the thoughtful selection of furniture can positively impact students. She tells the story of a school in Atlanta, where new seating included movable stools. The teacher would come around to each group, carrying her own stool with her, and talk with students eye to eye.

“The students told me the teacher was spending more one-on-one time with them,” says Clark. “I’m not sure if she actually was, but because she was sitting down on their level instead of looking down at them at desks, they felt seen. They felt they knew the teacher better.”

This is what school leaders at Gary Community School Corp. in Indiana wanted when they started revamping the district’s learning spaces.

Leveraging federal funds, Toni Mitchell, GCSC’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief project manager, led a districtwide initiative to overhaul learning spaces across five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. Keeping students’ social, emotional and physical abilities in mind, Mitchell selected inclusive furnishings, such as flexible chairs, mobile tables and desks, cushioned seating, storage units and rugs.

LEARN MORE: Here are six creative ways to spend K–12 ESSER funds.

Along with furniture, the district added digital whiteboards, laser printers and other technologies, all of which required a network infrastructure upgrade.

With the classroom spaces completely transformed and the new network infrastructure in place, GCSC proceeded to build its first large public space: a high school media center.

“The library was a very dated, traditional, wood-clustered environment that embraced a collection of books,” says Mitchell.

Slated for completion this school year, the “modernized, up-to-date media center will promote books and technology,” Mitchell says. “It has dedicated learning spaces, including three glass-walled collaboration rooms, a robotics ideation room, a podcasting room and a makerspace room.”

Mitchell says furnishings and the school -environment are key for learning and for social and emotional health. But this outcome would not have been possible without support and input from the school community and vendors.

“If physical surroundings are not flexible, they can — and often do — negatively impact one’s physical, mental and social well-being,” Mitchell says. “The reconfigured learning spaces are empowering in that students and staff feel valued and believe it’s evidence that someone is listening and someone cares.”

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