Home » Success Stories » A menu of choice, collaboration and innovation – that’s what you will find at the ELA Café

Hedrick Middle School (HMS) students in Julia McCloud’s English Language Arts (ELA) classes are experiencing learning differently than ever before thanks to collaboration between McCloud, HMS Principal Barbara Hamric and LEF.

“There was so much talk about changing learning spaces and rethinking our approach to teaching,” McCloud said. “I wondered, ‘what if?’ After really thinking about all the different ways to reinvent the classroom and break down barriers to learning and student success, I approached my principal and she was very supportive of exploring ways to reimagine the typical classroom.”

The vision McCloud created was incredible: a place where ELA students could work independently or collaboratively; stations where they could tackle the reading and the writing components of the ELA curriculum; technology to enable blogging, peer editing of student work and file-sharing; furniture designed for comfort; and lighting to create optimum work environments.

With an incredible vision, came an incredible price tag. “Mrs. Hamric was supportive,” McCloud explained, “She offered what she could from campus funding, but there was no way to do all of this at once. And then I realized I could apply for a grant from LEF.”

The LEF grant allowed the project to become the total transformation McCloud envisioned.

IMG_20140110_0914221-225x300It was no longer about changes in furnishing or room lay out, now she could purchase keyboards for iPads to allow students to really use them for word processing, blogging and collaborative writing assignments.

She was able to buy headphones for students who prefer to listen to literature on tape as they read along in the book. Noise cancelling headphones were purchased for students who work best in silence.

Lap desks and beanbag chairs were purchased to allow students to break free from rows of desks.

McCloud bought and installed track lighting to highlight student work – and then she realized she could change the direction of the lights to create a stage area for student playwrights and readers’ theater.

One of the smallest things she purchased seems to have had the biggest impact: a desk apprentice. Looking around the ELA Café, no teacher desk is present. “I used to be the teacher with the back corner of the room set up as my home away from home. It was my space and the students knew to respect that,” McCloud said. “Then I realized the whole room should be their space. I have been amazed at how this one change has really broken down unintentional boundaries between me and my students.”

IMG_20140110_091016-225x300The students, these changes were all about them, their success and their increased engagement. And it seems McCloud’s efforts were well placed.

“I love this class,” HMS sixth-grade student Dario Gutierrez said. “It’s not like any other classroom. It is really easy to concentrate in here even though it looks more like a playground. I wish all of my classes were like this.”

His classmates agree. “I love this classroom because it is comfortable and in here I am never stressed,” fellow sixth-grade student Laura Paulson said. “Ms. McCloud worked hard to create this environment. I’m thankful she applied for the LEF grant so she could help students and make school work something to enjoy.”

Stephanie De Los Santos, also in sixth grade at HMS, recognized that applying for the grant wasn’t the final step. “Thank you, LEF, for awarding her grant and giving us the money,” she said. “We love our new classroom.”