Letter to the editor: Unproductive ‘tandem classrooms’ lost in Mt. Abe plan

What are tandem classrooms? An online search reveals this term is mostly used to describe an academic process of co-teaching. Tandem classrooms, as the term is used at Mt. Abraham, are a physical stacking of one classroom in front of another. The only way to reach the second classroom is by passing through the first. Tandem classrooms are also those that are separated by a retractable curtain/wall for flexibility in classroom size. Logistically speaking, neither of these solutions are conducive to focused learning.
Originally, the nested classroom layout was another energy efficiency strategy. The theory was classrooms with no exterior walls or windows would retain more heat than those located on an exterior wall, requiring less electricity to heat.
Academically speaking, this arrangement creates a set of challenges with a direct impact on effective teaching/learning. The walls between the stacked classrooms are constructed with enough noise muffling material that voices do not easily carry to the other classroom when the door between is closed. However, videos being shown can be heard in both rooms. Imagine trying to focus on a calculus problem while a film about any other subject is playing. Someone opens a door and the volume rises like commercials do on the TV, specifically to draw your attention. Now, return your focus to calculus. In the situation of rooms separated by a retractable wall, there is no sound buffering and the effect is similar to having two talk radio stations playing at the same time.
Another inherent difficulty created by the nested setup is a sense of being trapped if you are in the second classroom. A bathroom break in the middle of class is sometimes necessary. Disrupting your own class will deter some students from leaving the room. Disrupting a second room of students by opening and closing both of their doors at either end of your trip and the feeling of being “on display” as you walk through their class twice can feel disrespectful and too daunting for some teens.
The impact of a distraction can be detrimental, particularly if a test is happening while you pass through that other class. There have been many studies showing that a period of time is necessary to return your focus to a task following an interruption. Though this specific situation can be limited by waiting until between classes, in effect it is preventing the student from taking care of their needs. There is no choice to avoid passing through the first classroom if you’ve been to an appointment and are returning while class is in session.
The conceptual plan for eliminating nested classrooms calls for moving walls to create a hallway separating the rooms, creating independent access to each. It’s a simple fix, but not an uncomplicated one. The issues of air quality and lighting must also be addressed. These items are two more of the priorities for the Mt. Abe renovation project identified and confirmed by many rounds of surveys and studies.
The interior classrooms formed during this process will still have no sunlight as they have no contact with the building’s exterior walls. The current conceptual drawings call for skylights to be installed in the ceilings of these rooms on the second floor. The significant 20 percent reduction in the bond request will likely lead to eliminating a portion of the skylights.
Over the past several years, facilities maintenance has been updating lighting throughout the building with modern fixtures and natural light bulbs. This is a huge improvement and perhaps some other architectural feature can be employed to draw sunlight from other places without sacrificing the ability to lockdown the rooms, if it were ever necessary. Tandem classrooms using a retractable curtain/wall are planned to be eliminated.
The air quality issue is a building-wide priority and these rooms will be addressed as part of the larger air handling design.
The vote for a reduced bond of $29.5 million is scheduled for Town Meeting Day, March 6, 2018. Please go to the polls or obtain an absentee ballot from your town clerk.
Denise Dalton

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