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Teachers Perfect Their Interior Designs for Opening Day

Bulletin boards: Though one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, many educators think a nicely decorated classroom is a plus.

September 07, 1998|JENNIFER HAMM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OAK PARK — Six individually designed and decorated bulletin boards adorn the walls of Kelley Conrad's third-grade classroom at Oak Hills Elementary School in Oak Park.

Although Conrad and another teacher she will share the room with this school year spent most of their summer preparing the wall space for the first day of school, she worked right up until the last minute adding the final touches.

"This is sort of a fun one, so I think it might be better to do it a little crooked," said Conrad as she stapled block blue letters reading: "During the Summer I . . . " just before school started.

Students will provide the art that will decorate much of the classroom canvas, but Conrad, like most teachers in Ventura County, prepares that pallet with creative bulletin-board decorating techniques.

"It's time-consuming and you want it to look good," she said.

Three bulletin boards will be used to display students' work; another is designated as the room's "Reading Corner." Yet another board illustrates symbols of America--an important part of the third-grade civics curriculum.

Although some of the bulletin board designs will stay up all year, others, like "During the Summer I . . . ," will change often to reflect what the class is discussing, whether it is part of the curriculum or a reflection of the season.

Although it may seem as if classroom decorating is just for fun, educators agree there is sound reasoning behind thoughtfully crafted bulletin boards.

When classroom walls are well decorated, learning can continue even when the teacher isn't giving instruction, said Oak Hills Principal Tony Knight. A student who wanders up to sharpen his pencil can notice the "Symbols of America" bulletin board, for example, allowing him to recall earlier lessons or learn a new fact.

"We're optimizing time in a way," Knight said.

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Curriculum reinforcement is a key goal of bulletin boards, along with making the room aesthetically pleasing, experts say.

"I think they're fun, in terms of giving students some ownership in the classroom," said Jim Mahler, professor of education at Cal Lutheran University. "It's an opportunity to put up a lot of student work."

Some research, however, suggests that students can be distracted in an overdecorated classroom, Mahler said.

"But for most, they're stimulating and supportive of the educational process," he said.

In Santa Paula, Neva Hickerson decorated her walls with an oversized picture of Clifford, the red dog featured in a series of children's books.

But her first-graders at Glen City Elementary don't see just a cute puppy up on the wall. They also are looking at reference tools to help them with their alphabet, numbers and colors.

"It's high interest for the kids . . . and they do use it," Hickerson said.

As in other elementary classrooms, plenty of space is left to feature student work in as many parts of the room as possible--and not just on the walls. A wire strung high above the desks cuts across the classroom and will soon be hung with art projects.

"It's so cute," she said. "You can't improve on that."

Although schools often allocate small budgets for teachers to purchase decorating supplies, it is common for them to spend their own money too. For example, Hickerson said she spends about $400 each year on decorations, art supplies and classroom snacks.

Bennett's Educational Materials in Ventura, which carries classroom decorations, is busiest during the last weeks of August and early September, said store manager Karen Laferney. Teachers buying banners, posters and calendars, who spend between $50 and $200 on average, barrage the store.

"They spend hundreds of dollars out of their pockets every year," Laferney said.

But teachers say the expense is worth every penny.

"I think it's an investment in my own happiness. I spend most of my waking day here," said Rhonda Ralls, who teaches first grade at Glen City Elementary. "I want it to be a place I like."

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An attractive classroom is like any other place of business, agrees Knight, Oak Hills' principal. Just as a corporate office with striking paintings is thought to be more conducive to a positive work environment, a classroom with well-designed bulletin boards encourages more learning.

"You want to have a professional environment, yet it needs to be kid-focused," Knight said.

And Knight points out that displays of student accomplishments shouldn't just happen in the classroom. It's important that the entire school be a reflection of what is being learned. Bulletin boards around the school should display student learning and achievement.

Teachers begin to cultivate their classroom decorating skills when they themselves are still students.

"They teach you, 'This is how you should put up the butcher paper. This is how you should put up the border,' " Conrad said, recalling when she was a student teacher.

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