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Changing the classroom … with comfort

Tatum Broyhill, Lauren Nordseth and Samantha Bergman, students in Jason Augustowski’s 7th grade English class at Belmont Ridge Middle School, study collaboratively in a non-traditional setting. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Loudoun County classrooms continue to find innovative ways to teach the county's students.

The modern-day classroom design has changed. No longer will you see each student at a desk and the teacher in the front of the classroom.

Belmont Ridge Middle School English teacher Jason Augustowski, a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Virginia Tech, has instituted a small pilot program which changes the classroom paradigm.

Augustowski, with the approval of Principal Ryan Hitchman and the help of parents, has replaced the common desk with sofas, lounge chairs and futons.

Augustowski attends and speaks at National Councils of Teachers of English Conferences every summer to learn new ways to grab the attention of his students.

At this past summer's conference in Boston, Augustowski was approached by several of his colleagues about a new teaching style.

“My professional colleagues I get to see once a year at those conferences. A couple of them mentioned, 'Are you still using desks?' I was like well of course,” Augustowski said. “They told me they had transferred to a new method where it is couches, coffee tables and more of like a library learning community type of environment.”

Over the winter break, Augustowski began contacting parents about his intentions for the classroom.

Upon notifying the parent of his idea, Augustowski received a lot of positive feedback.

All of the furniture in the classroom was donated by the parents of his students, so there was no additional cost to the school or LCPS.

Over the Martin Luther King holiday, Augustowski and several volunteer picked up the furniture. Students came in that Monday to design the classroom.

“I wanted to do this from an instructional standpoint because I wanted to heighten engagement,” Augustowski said. “English gets a bad rap all the time as the boring subject. The kids haven't reacted negatively at all. Now they are just more comfortable while learning. We are still studying the same things as any other classroom.”

The new classroom has been a hit with students as they have the ability to move around, ask questions if needed, and work together with their friends.

“I think it makes us want to learn more because we are happier,” seventh grader Lauren Nordseth, 13, said.

“We don't have to sit around bored in a desk,” seventh grader Samantha Bergman, 12, said.

“This is one of our favorite classes, especially because of this and Mr. A,” seventh grader Tatum Broyhill, 12, said.

With the new comfort level in his classroom, Augustowski knows the couches could tempt students to fall asleep when he is not looking.

He addressed the issue with them and developed a different instruction method for the classroom.

“We have nine curriculum standards for SOL testing. The kids select what standard they want to learn and they are individually learning every standard at their own pace. Some kids in my class could be learning about media literacy, some could be learning about the Holocaust.

“Kids get lost all the time when you are talking to the whole class and you get surprises on the test from that,” Augustowski said.


I have a child in this class.  Initially there was excitement about the new arrangement, but now my child hates it.  It’s difficult to write on your lap and the the couches are disruptive.  My child complains that nearly all work has to happen at home because nothing is getting done in the classroom.  I am all for innovative ideas, but this one doesn’t seem to be working according to what I’m hearing.  I wish my child liked it, but apparently several of the friends don’t care for it either.

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