A vital component of all learning environments, the right furniture can be a tremendous benefit to classrooms, from making students more comfortable while learning to supporting and even enhancing the myriad lessons taught throughout the school year.

Administrators in the Las Cruces Public School District in Las Cruces, NM, understand this well. Recently, after years of using furniture that didn’t stand up to heavy use and hindered comfort and flexibility in the classroom, the district established a standard for furniture. The standard was based on durability, flexibility and mobility to ensure the furniture supported the district’s mission of providing student-centered learning environments and fostering academic excellence.

To make the new standard a reality, the district selected Smith System, a 106-year-old school furniture manufacturer, to provide desk, table and storage solutions in the district’s newest schools – Monte Vista Elementary School and Mesa Middle School. Smith System worked closely with school administrators to customize existing product lines to meet very specific requirements set forth by the district.

Since the new schools opened, the Smith System furniture has been a valuable addition to the district, enabling students to adjust desks to their individual comfort levels, allowing teachers to efficiently change room configurations for individual or group-learning activities, and providing the district with peace of mind that its furniture investment will continue to support positive learning for years to come.

New Schools Debut New Standards

In 2010, the Las Cruces Public School District was building two new schools: Monte Vista Elementary School and Mesa Middle School. While considering building and classroom design options, administrators realized they had an opportunity to establish a standard for furniture used in elementary and middle schools throughout the district.

Up to this point, furniture brands used in previous schools didn’t hold up well to long-term use. When desks and chairs broke without someone to make repairs, teachers were left scrambling to find something that functioned.

“We were always scrounging to find furniture that actually worked, desks that matched or tables that weren’t broken,” says Steve Rodriquez, a teacher at Mesa Middle School.

Additionally, previous furniture wasn’t very user friendly, nor was it particularly supportive of all lesson plans. Teachers and students had difficulty adjusting the supposedly “flexible” furniture for children of different heights and had to call on maintenance staff to get the job done. Bulky, immobile desks had to be wrestled across the room when it was time for a new learning configuration.

To set the new furniture standard, there were several key criteria that the furniture needed to meet. Durability was the first criterion. After all, the furniture needed to withstand heavy, daily use from students for years to come. The furniture also had to be flexible, which meant it needed to be easily adjusted by students to be customized to their individual heights without the use of tools or help from maintenance staff. Finally, the furniture needed to be mobile, enabling easy movement from one learning configuration, classroom or school to another without large numbers of staff required to move things around.

A Fitting Furniture Solution

Once the furniture standard was established, a committee, including the purchasing director, construction manager, associate superintendent of operations and the new schools’ principals, set out to find a furniture solution that met the district’s stringent criteria. Under the guidance of Brent Aldridge, director of operations at Van H. Gilbert Architect PC of Albuquerque, NM, the firm leading the architectural design of the new schools, the committee toured a school furniture factory, visited the National School Supply and Equipment Association’s trade show to preview furniture options, and even tested demonstration models from various manufacturers.

The committee sought a manufacturer that would do more than just provide furniture – it wanted a partner that was willing to deliver a solution customized to the district’s needs. It found that partner in Smith System, who outfitted Monte Vista Elementary School and Mesa Middle School with computer and science tables, classroom desks and storage systems. Smith System approached the relationship with a willingness to collaborate, making enhancements and modifications to existing product lines to meet the district’s specific requirements.

The district chose Smith System’s UXL desks and tables, including UXL Nest and Fold Tables, UXL Half Round Tables, UXL Computer Stations and UXL Wing Desks with book boxes, but required that all the desks and tables be easy to adjust by students to ensure a proper, comfortable height for learning. Eager to deliver the best solution, Smith System custom-manufactured all UXL desks and tables with round, pin-adjustable legs. This modification let students be in control of their learning space, enabling them to raise or lower the height of desks and tables on their own.

Smith System representatives were amazed to learn of Las Cruces’ requirement for true adjustability in student desks and tables, as not all schools place such a strong emphasis on making the learning space comfortable and easily accessible to all students. This requisite customization not only reinforced the district’s devotion to student-centered learning, it aligned with Smith System’s dedication to providing furniture that helps all students succeed.

Adding pin-adjustable legs wasn’t the only customization that the district requested. To satisfy mobility requirements, casters were added to the desks and tables, so students could easily move the furniture from individual learning stations to collaborative learning clusters. Smith System also increased the thickness of its UXL desk and table tops for extra durability – another unique modification made to meet the district’s specific requirements.

Monte Vista Elementary School also selected Smith System Cascade Storage Cabinets to streamline classroom organization and make instructional materials easier for teachers to incorporate into lesson plans.

“Throughout the process of researching furniture options, we learned that there were some manufacturers with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude; however, Smith System worked with us on the desk and table legs, reinforcements of the units, and more, to meet our precise needs,” says Puentes, director of purchasing. “Their willingness to work with us was a pleasant surprise – we are only one of many districts, yet they made us feel special by putting so much time and effort into serving our needs.”

In addition to creating a customized furniture solution, Smith System provided top-notch customer service throughout the process – from before specification through installation.

“We could tell through the evaluation process that Smith System was going to be there to answer questions and make sure the installation went off without a hitch,” says Aldridge, director of operations at Van H. Gilbert Architect PC.

Furniture in Action

In September 2010, Monte Vista Elementary School opened to students and staff eager to see their new student-centered learning environment. Mesa Middle School opened its doors to similar anticipation in December 2010.

Since then, the Smith System furniture has been a hit among students, teachers, maintenance staff and administration.

“The students really take care of the furniture,” says Puentes, director of purchasing. “They immediately bought into the ownership of the furniture, which can be attributed to its flexibility. It’s theirs to move.”

The UXL desks and tables with pin-adjustable legs have enhanced the overall learning environment for the students of Las Cruces, ensuring each learning space is sized to the proportions and comfort levels of each student. Students of all sizes can now easily adjust the height of desks and tables without the help of maintenance staff equipped with adjustment tools.

“Students are more comfortable with the new desks,” says Rodriquez, teacher. “They don’t complain about being in class forever and can pay better attention to what’s being taught.”

Teachers have embraced the furniture, too. The easy-to-move aspect and unique shape of the UXL desks allow teachers to integrate more group learning activities into lesson plans without taking time out of short class periods to painstakingly rearrange the room.

“In math class we have lecture time followed by explore time where students take what they learned in lecture and work collaboratively, then move back to individual configurations,” says Rodriquez, teacher. “The mobility of the Smith System desks allow for simple and efficient transitions, maximizing learning in our 55-minute class periods.”

One unexpected surprise was how the furniture benefitted maintenance staff. When the new schools’ first summer vacation rolled around and major classroom cleaning was underway, maintenance staff discovered that the new furniture made their tasks more efficient.

“The custodial staff flew through summer cleaning because they didn’t have to hassle with the difficulty of moving stationary furniture,” says Gabe Jacquez, principal of Mesa Middle School. “All the furniture is mobile, so they can easily roll it in and out, and get the cleaning done quickly.”

With Smith System desks and tables in the new schools, administrators and maintenance staff have durable furniture that will stand up for years to come, students have adjustable furniture that is comfortable and conducive to learning, and teachers have mobile furniture that supports countless lesson plans – all qualities that help the district deliver on its mission. The furniture deployed in Monte Vista Elementary School and Mesa Middle School has proved so successful, the furniture standard will be used for many years – and in many schools – to come.