Last week the from parents seeking a more beneficial
learning environment for students at . Specifically, they requested the erection of actual walls to separate classrooms, replacing the flexible, movable walls that had been the hallmark of the “open classroom” concept that was popular in the 1970s. That educational fad has gone the route of Nehru jackets and leisure suits, but Branford students still endure the lingering effects of that
philosophy with the physical plant.
A 2004 article in the Education Next journal explains the situation: “By the early 1970s, the phrase open classrooms dominated educators’ vocabularies. Even though parents and practitioners found it hard to pin down exactly what open education meant, many school boards adopted open-education programs, and open-space schools were built across the country.” However, within a few years, the tide shifted again, and traditional school buildings began to reappear around the nation. “Citations in the media and academic journals indicate that interest in open classrooms peaked somewhere around 1974. By the early 1980s, open classrooms had already become a footnote in doctoral dissertations.”
A major concern about the learning environment at Walsh centers on the
amount of noise that seeps from one classroom to another. One classroom might have students actively engaged in a learning game that emits substantial enthusiasm from the students, while the adjoining class might be engaged in a test or quiet learning endeavor. Reducing interference so that students can focus is a paramount concern in learning.
The Engineering Toolbox has published a chart indicating maximum acceptable decibel levels for a variety of environments, ranging from 30 in a bedroom to 55 for the outdoors. The table lists 35 decibels as the maximum acceptable sound level for a classroom. Any noise above that level results in “speech interference, communication disturbance.” A 2000 research study by the Acoustical Society of America indicated that children with normal hearing who were routinely exposed to noise levels above 60 decibels experienced higher blood pressure rates. Furthermore, the girls in the study “evidenced diminished motivation in a standardized behavioral protocol.”
In September 2005, the noise level at Walsh was assessed by a professional
audiologist, Antonia Bracia Maxon, Ph.D. Her report indicated that the readings in three areas of the school demonstrated noise levels above the recommended maximum. Room 1 was between 60-70 decibels; the decibel reading for room 2 ranged from 50-58; and the lowest levels in the third room were 50-55 decibels. Can the noise level now be substantially lower than those recorded? Does any evidence exist thatnoise has no effect on learning?
Improving the physical plant of the school is an essential step towards enhancing learning. Are the current capital improvement plans putting the children first?