What a difference a chair makes.

What a difference a chair makes.

Thanks to some alternative seating -- and an occasional "five seconds of bounce" -- some students at Greensview and Windermere elementary schools are more comfortable and more attentive in class.

In fall 2014, kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Greensview launched an experiment in which three different types of non-traditional chairs were brought into classrooms.

At the time, teachers were hearing from students who sometimes complained that the standard issue classroom chairs were too hard and uncomfortable.

Upper Arlington Education Foundation Director Joanie Dugger, whose organization helped pay for the chairs, said teachers were interested in seeing if softer seating that allowed for some movement might help students stay focused and behave better during class.

By spring 2015, the UAEF received a second request for a grant to purchase alternative seats.

This time, it was from fifth-grade teachers at Windermere, where students had some of the same complaints as Greensview students.

"Last year, I was fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher and my class was writing persuasive essays," said Beth McCormick, now a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Windermere. "The students needed to pick a topic of something they would like to change at Windermere.

"Two of my students wrote persuasive essays about the chairs we had. When they finished their essays, I decided we should do something about it."

Aided by research and the trial-and-error of Greensview's program, McCormick and the UAEF identified Runtz Ball chairs as the best option for Windermere.

The seats lack traditional backs, and instead of a hard seat, students sit on exercise balls.

The seats are designed to support better balance and posture, and they also allow students to bounce slightly, should they wish to, for better comfort or to release small bursts of energy and anxiety.

"The main reasons for choosing these chairs are the research that proves they help with student focus in the classroom," McCormick said. "They help with balance, posture and core strength, (which) supports health and wellness, and the little bounce they provide gives a healthy interruption to sitting still for so long in the classroom.

"Every once in a while, one of my students will ask for 'five seconds of bounce,' where I let them as a class bounce a little higher than the normal small bounce. It is silent while they do the five seconds of bounce and it provides them with a 'wiggle brain break,' and then they get right back to work."

McCormick said she's never had students "abuse" the chairs' bouncing features and she's seen "a huge improvement in attention and focus" for many students. She said her classroom still offers traditional seating so students can use whichever furniture they prefer.

"I have four or five students in each of my classes that prefer to use the regular school chairs," she said. "Because of this, I'm able to share the few extra (Runtz Ball) chairs with some other classrooms in the building for students that may have some focus issues and could benefit from a small bounce while supporting core balance."

Among Windermere's fifth-grade proponents of the Runtz Ball chairs is Eva Swords, who said she appreciates everything from their comfort to the ease with which they can be stacked on desktops at the end of the school day.

"I like it because you get to bounce on it," Swords said. "It's not as rough as the hard chairs."

Classmate Jack Trace said the Runtz Ball chairs are comfortable.

"They really get your energy out," he said." When you're really energetic, it's hard to focus and you can bounce and get your energy out."

Fifth-grader Avery Golowin concurred, and noted the chairs have helped her posture and balance.

"You can sit on your knees," she said. "They can help your core and focus."

Whether more alternative seating will be provided at Greensview or Windermere will be up to building principals who manage their buildings' budgets.

But Dugger noted they and other principals throughout the district now have more information from the pilot programs and she was glad the UAEF could help.

Moreover, she said she was pleased by the grant process, because it once again showed local teachers continually look for ways to improve classroom learning, even if the concepts don't seem conventional.

"I just love that our teachers understand our students so well," Dugger said. "They're constantly looking not to just give subject matter, but to create environments that are exciting, more comfortable and that really foster learning."