The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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May 21, 2024

The power of interior design in schools

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While interior design is often reduced to mere aesthetics, on a deeper level, it’s a powerful psychological tool MCPS can use to foster collaborative and enriching learning environments.

From dropping final exams to rounding up marking period grades, MCPS has frequently attempted to satisfy the student body and improve productivity and student well-being. However, beyond curriculums and grades, a lesser-known factor can affect a student’s success: the designs of classrooms and learning spaces.

While interior design is often reduced to mere aesthetics, on a deeper level, it’s a powerful psychological tool MCPS can use to foster collaborative and enriching learning environments. 

Interior design and psychology meet in the “psychology of space,” or the study of human relations and behaviors within the context of built or natural environments. Research shows that interior design impacts an individual’s subconscious, affecting their mood, actions and success. Schools should prioritize thoughtful interior design, such as adding natural lighting, plants and collaborative desks in classrooms to create more productive environments.

Many business and corporate spaces use tested techniques, like natural lighting and calming colors like blue, to create a relaxed yet productive work environment. However, at Whitman and most other schools in Montgomery County, classrooms consist of four white cinderblock walls with minimal windows.

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Junior Ava Hatcher feels a stark contrast in her mood and productivity depending on where she’s learning.

“In Whitman’s new addition, the classrooms have a more welcoming feeling because there’s a lot more light,” Hatcher said. “It makes me feel more productive compared to the trapped, prison-like feeling that arises in the older natural light-ridden classrooms on the first floor.”

Whitman’s main building, specifically the first floor, has classrooms with no windows, cool fluorescent lighting and individual chairs connected to a small L-shaped desk. The “tablet arm chair desk’s” connected style limits movement and communication. These desks are then packed into small, dimly-lit classrooms, resembling a stifling prison. 

Classrooms lack natural light and nature, creating a dull, confined environment that reduces productivity and morale. Researchers concluded that 10% of sick days are directly due to a lack of nature and natural light in offices, which logically translates into schools. According to UCLA Health, natural light releases serotonin, a chemical that improves mood and increases general happiness. Additionally, a study by Joseph Ferrari and Catherine Roster found that tidy spaces increase motivation and productivity, and other research shows that simply adding plants to a room can decrease stress.

Beyond pure looks, interior design should also encourage peer collaboration, which promotes well-being and productivity. Creating collaborative learning spaces is possible by providing “collaborative desks” and creating classroom collaborative spaces.

These desks are present in Whitman’s new addition and select classrooms in the original building. Incorporating these desks in classrooms in MCPS would be beneficial to students. 

Junior Victoria Atesiano has seen dramatic changes in the classroom’s social environment since the addition of collaborative desks.

“The desks are angled which encourages eye contact with my classmates which makes it easier to approach them,” Atesiano said. “If I need help it’s very easy to ask classmates, which can be easier than finding time to talk to the teacher privately.”

The small design change not only cultivates a collaborative environment, but also promotes productivity. Single desks with connected chairs restrict students’ mobility, forcing them to face the front of the classroom or contorting their bodies to see the screen. Having furniture that students can move allows them to interact with classmates and listen to lectures more comfortably. 

Senior Kyla Ngeno finds that collaborative desks positively affect peer interactions during school.

“Due to the desk’s ability to be moved into a circle it encourages communication with classmates I might have not spoken to before,” Ngeno said.

Some argue that changing school interior design is too expensive, as MCPS allotted $27,899,279 in the 2024 budget for furniture and equipment. For 2024-25, the Board of Education raised the budget by $1,498,137, increasing the final amount to $29,397,416. With 185,461 staff and students in MCPS, that equates to over $158 per person; MCPS needs to use the available money to make changes to the environment of schools. 

School systems need to consciously change interior design to ensure the well-being of students, increase productivity and motivate social interaction. These small changes can make a huge difference for students who spend six hours in the classroom daily. MCPS officials need to recognize the importance of interior design in schools to maximize the learning potential of the student body.

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Katelyn Leonard
Katelyn Leonard, Opinion Writer
Grade 11 Why did you join the Black and White? To express my opinions, research, and write about topics I am interested in. What is your favorite song of all time? Sound and Vision by David Bowie

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