Chancellor Elementary School second-grader Troy Pratt lounged on a legless plastic scoop chair as he typed a research paper about animal habitats.
Some of his classmates used bouncy yoga balls as chairs, while others completed assignments seated on plastic wobble stools that tip gently side to side.
Teacher Sarah Stinson’s Spotsylvania County classroom is part of an emerging “flexible seating” trend that lets students choose where they sit each day, whether it be on the floor or in front of a communal table. Her students, some in scoop chairs with their legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles, looked both comfortable and productive one morning this week.
In fact, Stinson said, all of them have turned in their assignments on time in recent weeks, compared to 70 or 80 percent before she introduced flexible seating last month with help from a grant.
Troy prefers the scoop seat because he can rock back and forth while he works, and classmate Piper Moon said she likes being able to sit by friends.
“They do not want to lose their flexible seating because that’s our contract,” Stinson said. “If they’re not productive, they go back to the traditional seating.”
Chancellor Elementary’s willingness to evolve is perhaps one of the reasons it was among eight schools in Virginia and 349 nationwide to be named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The designation recognizes schools for “overall academic excellence” and progress in closing achievement gaps between different groups of students.
About 70 percent of Chancellor’s 443 students are white. Its other subgroups—which include racial minorities, English-language learners and economically disadvantaged students—all met or exceeded state goals on pass rates for English and math Standards of Learning tests.
“We instill in our students a sense of pride in their scores,” the school wrote in its Blue Ribbon application. Teachers also participate in “professional learning community” meetings at least twice a week to analyze test data and discuss new ways to engage students.
The school’s daily attendance rate stands at 96 percent, reflecting Chancellor’s motto of “respectful, responsible and productive.”
Chancellor is known as the “Public Private School” because of its partnership with the community, the Blue Ribbon application stated. A local church, for instance, offers book bags and classroom supplies to low-income students at the beginning of each school year.
Built in 1939, Chancellor is the county’s oldest school and describes itself as a “multigenerational community with a family oriented atmosphere.”
Third-grade teacher Sandra Azzarelli sometimes mistakenly refers to student Blake Fletcher as “Adam.” That’s the name of Blake’s dad, who Azzarelli taught at Chancellor more than two decades ago.
Her classroom has also evolved with the times, with each student assigned their own Chromebook or desktop computer. Azzarelli said 100 percent of her students passed the math and English SOL tests when she received the computers about two years ago.
“I think it’s because they got constant remediation,” Azzarelli said. “They’re constantly reviewing what they missed.”
On Wednesday, some students completed a digital assignment in which they had to select antonyms for words such as “laugh,” “cry” and “hot.” They could not move on to the next word until they got the answer correct.
“You don’t actually have to waste paper,” student Hadley Hudman said of the setup. “If you make a mistake, you don’t have to erase it—you just have to click the other one.” Hudman and her classmates all wore lanyards with “brag tags,” or cards they receive for good behavior and other accomplishments.
Chancellor Principal Shawn Hudson said the national award is a result of the partnership between students, teachers, parents and the overall community. “I believe when you have those things working in tune, it just goes hand-in-hand with student success,” he said.