The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Grant assists Ontonagon student needs


April 2, 2019

Jan Tucker/Daily Globe

Brody Majurin and Gatlin would rather study on the floor bean bags, while Gracie Guzek does her reading on the relaxing chair in the flexible classroom.


Ontonagon - When third grade teacher Kristi Pestka tells students "class take your seats," some will be standing, peddling or sitting on bean chairs.

It is called "flexible seating," a part of a three-pronged grant written by Pestka and 4-5 grade teacher Hillary Sunblad at the Ontonagon Area Elementary School.

Students might be doing their work on a desk cycle, stand-up desk, bean bag floor seating, spinning chair or covered log. The teachers wrote and received $11,500 to implement the grant proposal which, in addition to flexible seating, includes healthy snacks and less noneducational screen time.

Pestka said flexible seating is a new trend and it is working well in the classroom. She said the arrangement allows the children to learn outside of the traditional classroom.

"I have had less behavior problems and the kids take responsibility and ownership," she said.

Kids may chose who they sit next to and rotate weekly on the various seating, or in some cases standing desks. The kids know that if they don't act responsibly they will be moved from their friends or off of their favorite seating.

"They have to take ownership of their decisions and be accountable for them," she said.

Pestka, an 18-year teacher at Ontonagon, added she "loves her classroom and so do the students."

She said kids like to move and the class room, while outside the traditional environment, has resulted in less behavior problems with the children taking responsibility, ownership and more accountability.

"Some of the seating is not right for all kids and they choose what is right for them," said Pestka.

One student said she did not like the wobble chair and was free to choose what makes her comfortable for the learning environment.

The program did not happen overnight.

Pestka said a couple of traditional desks and chairs were moved out and slowly the program evolved. Students who still like the traditional chair and table find that option is still available. She has received positive feedback from parents and students as well.

The flexible seating arrangements are just part of the grant program. The children K-5, have also reacted well to the challenge of healthy eating, which was part of the grant challenge.

Every Thursday, the grant monies provide for "healthy snacks." The kids learn what a health snack is and look forward to the surprise every Thursday when the snacks are provided through the grant monies.

The snacks brought to school other days by the kids must all be healthy. First the children studied what kind of snacks they liked best and then the names of some less well known. "I love hummus," one second grade girl said.

Hillary Sunblad, who teaches fourth and fifth grade, wrote the grant with Pestka. She emphasized the third part of the challenge is less non-educational screen time.

In that challenge, the children survey how much screen time the family has and keep a score card. Every 3 minutes the screen time is reduced is a victory and prizes are awarded for such victories.

"It's all about a healthier self. What they do now affects what they do for a lifetime," Sunblad said, adding three-part program would "never have happened without the funds provided by the grant."

Sunblad said that Kathy Bauer from Michigan State University-Extension works with the kitchen staff with the healthy eating portion of the grant. The students eat the daily breakfast in the classroom as part of a family environment.

Sunblad said they hope to have a "healthy snack" portion put in the school policy book next year. Even the holiday parties the classes have emphasize healthy eating.

"At Thanksgiving the kids designed a pumpkin using vegetables and we want to make it fun to eat healthy," she added, noting that the healthy eating goal and less non educational screen time will result in changes at home as well.


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