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Four Educational Storage Challenges and How to Address Them

Jenny Gallow

Think of all of the items students and teachers need to store throughout a school day: books, technology, project materials, craft and cleaning supplies, personal possessions and more. While these storage needs often vary between age groups—the issues facing elementary schools and high schools can differ—they stem from the same root: a place for everything and everything in its place.

But that space is increasingly difficult to come by. Unintentionally, new trends in educational facility design are limiting wall space previously available for traditional storage. However, with a little innovative thinking, it’s possible to incorporate functional storage solutions without compromising design.

Here are four common storage challenges facing K-12 schools and examples for how they can be addressed.

Decreasing Wall Space

Challenge: Educational design trends including flexible classroom design, increased transparency and daylighting are eliminating a significant amount of wall space that used to be available for permanent classroom storage. Many classroom designs now include fully-operable walls between classrooms or learning commons, glass doors or openings to corridors, and large windows to let in extra sunlight. Combined, these features can eliminate up to three classroom walls, leaving only one wall for permanent storage, display boards and marker surfaces.

Solutions: Approaches to permanent classroom storage vary between grade level but are especially important in elementary school classrooms, where students and teachers often have more stuff requiring teacher storage and student cubbies. But it’s possible to fit all necessary classroom storage on one wall—really! Recently for Chillicothe School District, SHP built sliding marker boards in front of student cubbies. The boards nested off to the side when students needed access to their cubbies at the beginning and end of the day, and then then teacher could slide the boards out during class time, which had the added benefit of hiding cubbies, a distracting visual, from student view. This solution can work in classrooms with older students as well, with other storage being hidden behind sliding marker and display boards.

Co-Working Spaces

Challenge: Many schools are moving away from the one-size-fits-all classroom solution in favor of a flexible suite of rooms shared by teachers and designed for different learning experiences. This means that one teacher is not staying in the same room for the entire day. For many teachers, not “owning” one classroom space is a big shift and can create anxiety about where they will store their class materials.

Solutions: For schools with shared learning environments, it’s often best to create larger, centralized teacher storage spaces. In these areas, we often use high-density storage—shelving on a track that can be opened to access the needed shelves and then slid back in to place—as an efficient way to create significant amounts of storage in a small space. High-density storage ensures that each teacher can have their own storage space. By having the teacher storage in the same area, it can also allow teachers to share items like books and project materials, instead of having individual teachers be responsible for their own resource library.

Changing Student Needs

Increased transparency at Dayton STEM School eliminates one wall for permanent classroom storage

Challenge: While the movement towards one-to-one technology may lead people to believe that storage needs school-wide are decreasing, classroom and teacher storage needs are actually just as high, in not higher, than ever before. Yes, students bring fewer books and materials to classes, but storage solutions are still needed for coats and extracurricular equipment like athletic gear or band instruments. For older students who frequently move between classrooms, personal storage often ends up in corridors. But even this can be a challenge, as schools look to increase transparency and sightlines in common areas—a request not easily accommodated by corridors lined with lockers.

Solutions: When developing a new space for middle and high school students who require lockers, schools should consider how many students truly use or need locker space. One option is to move to a first-come-first-served locker system where students can check out a locker for the day if needed. Or, designs can incorporate different locker sizes. Students who need to store a coat don’t need as much space as students who need to store athletic equipment, so developing different locker options can maximize storage space.

Hands-On Learning

Challenge: As many schools shift to new curriculums, teaching styles and pedagogies—such as project-based learning—they are incorporating more hands-on learning experiences like labs and activities. But while schools may be storing less paper, teachers and students need places to store projects between classes.

Solutions: The furniture market is responding well to the maker movement, and there are now furniture solutions to provide additional project and material storage in the classroom. Mobile carts that can nest under tables and high-density shelving are great options for classrooms that embrace hands-on learning. In addition to education-specific furniture, SHP often looks to other industries for unique storage items to fit a specific classroom’s needs, such as restaurant sheet pan racks, which can be perfect for storing student projects in a small amount of space. Sometimes, the right solution just requires a bit of out-of-the-box thinking!

While it’s important to remember that every school faces different challenges and may require unique solutions, these examples show that with a little creative design, there are many ways to incorporate storage for a variety of needs. What kinds of unique storage solutions have you come up with in your classroom? Tell us in the comments.

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