(TNS) — Vibrant walls line the classroom — make that "lounge" — at Jefferson Elementary that features bean bag chairs, a leather couch and exercise balls turned into seats.
On one side of the school's traditional library space, the 560 students will be able to read books or use one of 30 Google Chromebooks in the new Google Chrome Lounge meant to provide a different experience from a normal classroom environment, Principal Christopher Very said.
On the other side of the library, doors open to the outside and another nontraditional classroom created this summer.
Deemed Reading Rocks, the outdoor learning center has a clear, environmentally friendly drawing board, wooden xylophone, sand table and large rocks meant to serve as learning stations, Very said.
"We don't believe that reading and developing a passion for literacy should just happen within our classrooms and the library," Very said.
This summer, school leaders looked for ways to transform some spaces, he said.
"We didn't want anything that resembled a classroom," Very said. "We wanted to make it meaningful and motivational and engaging for the kids. So we used bright colors, nontraditional seating, different stations."
In the Google Chrome Lounge, that meant embracing youngsters' desire to move around by adding chairs that incorporate exercise balls, yet don't roll around.
"They almost look like little Minions," Very said. "What kid wouldn't want to sit there?"
Even desks are oddly shaped. Nothing is traditional.
Students at Jefferson Elementary visits the library once a week. They also have free time at the library, and teachers can sign out areas like the Google Chrome Lounge and Reading Rocks for class. "It's not just computer-centered. Kids can read a book in there. There's instruction from the classroom teachers in there," Very said of the new lounge, which has doors that open to the traditional library space.
Director of Facilities Ryan Snodgrass said the design is the way of the future.
"This is something that we see in office buildings, in schools, that it's not a static position for the students. So they're going to be a little bit more attentive," he said.
From the regular library where books line shelves, students can head outside only if a teacher is nearby, Very said.
Reading Rocks utilizes large rocks found underground during early stages of construction for the new, $100 million Thomas Jefferson High School project. The West Jefferson Hills School District is building the high school across the street from Jefferson Elementary.
Very said he noticed rocks lining the street and approached Snodgrass about using them in the outdoor classroom, built mostly using grant dollars and donations.
New Jersey-based EP Henry Corp. donated stones for a patio, and the school received a Ready to Learn Block Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education that went toward the project, Very said.
The rocks tie into the school's curriculum, such as the rocks and minerals unit students learn in third grade or a weather unit in first grade. The area will focus on STREAM, or science, technology, reading, arts and math education, Very said.
Ryan Rosgone, 8, a third-grader, ran into the Google Chrome Lounge and began to explore.
"Wow. That's so cool," he said several times as he walked through the lounge and outdoor learning space.
Ryan, on a visit to the school last week, said his favorite parts were the rocks and xylophone.
Kristie Rosgone, Ryan's mom and a fourth-grade teacher at Myrtle Avenue Elementary in the Keystone Oaks School District, said she was almost in tears when she saw the new learning spaces.
"It's absolutely amazing. It's state-of-the-art," she said.
©2016 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.