2017-11-23 / Life in Leelanau

Flexible seating arrangement a success for Suttons Bay teacher

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


ELISE DWYER and Michael Rokita sit on large, orange bouncy balls introduced recently into their second grade classroom at Suttons Bay Public Schools. ELISE DWYER and Michael Rokita sit on large, orange bouncy balls introduced recently into their second grade classroom at Suttons Bay Public Schools. Twelve large, orange balls similar to those found in exercise gyms are proving valuable in teacher Danielle Kulpa’s second-grade classroom.

Kulpa is in her second year teaching at Suttons Bay, where she graduated high school in 2010.

“Providing a welcoming and engaging classroom is important,” Kulpa said. “I’m constantly looking for ways to improve.”

She was intrigued last spring when she came across a scholarly article about “flexible seating” (different types of chairs and seating arrangements in the classroom) and wanted to learn more.

There has been plenty of academic research on the subject.

A 2003 study was published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluding that in students with ADHD, sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legible word productivity. In other words, students using ball chairs were able to sit still, focus, and write more words clearly.

Equally as interesting, a study at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn four years later found the alternative seating improved learning and reduced obesity by making children more active.

“They help burn calories and excess energy …,” Kulpa said. “They improve metabolism and increase motivation and engagement on a task for a longer period of time.”

Alternative seating is also said to improve oxygen flow to the brain and improve core strength and posture.

Kulpa approached Principal Shawn Walbecq with her findings. And while he was supportive, there were no funds available in the 2017-18 budget to acquire them.

But it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Help came from an unexpected source.

Kulpa’s mother Shirley ran into Bob Joyce, public works supervisor for the Village of Suttons Bay, and mentioned the flexible seating proposal, and he offered to help.

Joyce lives in Omena; his son attends Leland Public School. He has no direct connection with Suttons Bay School, yet he rose to the challenge, raising $600 within just a few days.

“It was for kids. It didn’t matter where they’re from,” Joyce said. “It’s about trying to do something proactive.”

The first week of class Kulpa and her 26 second graders established basic routines and procedures as any other year, using standard classroom chairs. The following week, Kulpa brought a ball into the classroom and spoke about how it would help with concentration and focus.

“They helped me come up with a list of ‘rules’ they thought we should follow,” the teacher said. “If you abuse it, you lose it.”

The rules include:

 Bounce lightly to help concentration — not disturb concentration.

 No kicking, kneeling or belly rolling on the balls.

 No playing them like a drum.

 No drawing on them.

 Keep your feet on the floor.

Violators lose privileges but are given chances to win the new seats back. Interesting, some students prefer traditional classroom seats, which of course remain an option.

“You can lean back on them,” Tomas Chippewa said.

But many are enjoying their new seats.

“It helps you concentrate,” Aiden Genereaux said.

Nine weeks into the 2017-18 school year, Kulpa likes what she’s seeing.

“I’ve noticed a positive change in my students as a result of the bouncy seat balls,” she said. “Just the sight of the balls alone provide a unique and fun learning environment, which every second grader wants to be part of.”

Kulpa has seen increased engagement and focus time on task and other positive results.

“I see the balls giving the students a sense of responsibility as well,” she said. “I seek them taking good care of the balls and reminding each other of the expectations with they so that they last for many years.

“It’s very special and rewarding to see them taking pride and ownership in taking care of ‘their’ unique classroom.”

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