Steelcase Helps Craft a Classroom for Special-Need Students

At the Newmark School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Steelcase crafts a new learning environment for students with autism, anxiety, and other developmental difficulties.

The Newmark School features interiors by Steelcase that create a conducive environment for students with special learning and sensory needs.

All images courtesy Steelcase

Sean Corcorran, general manager of Steelcase Education Solutions, wasn’t sure that he had the answers to Regina Peter’s queries. In 2001, Peter had cofounded the Newmark School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a school for students with special needs, and in 2011, she’d come to seek Corcorran’s help with the interiors of a new school building.

Since 2009, Corcorran and his team had developed a set of dedicated solutions and strategies to support the evolving 21st-century classroom. But these solutions weren’t conceived or tested for those living with autism, anxiety, and other developmental difficulties—the kinds of students who attend Newmark. “So we just shared what we’d learned in our research,” says Corcorran of that first meeting. “And we listened.”

More from Metropolis

The classroom environment Steelcase helped create at Newmark is similar to many the company has worked on over the years. There is the ēno whiteboard that allows students to interact with projected digital images, and the media:scape conferencing system, which lets them share those images. And the mobile Node chair sustains a classroom that transitions from lecture to discussion to group-work mode.

“Steelcase educated us about classroom theory,” says Peter. “They helped us arrive at the design we knew we wanted, but couldn’t articulate.” Soon after the new facility opened in 2013, Peter and her colleagues observed that students with sensory needs grounded themselves by rocking or pivoting in the chairs. “Kids need to feel in control of their own items,” Peter says. “And they need to move. This environment lets them do both.”

“I truly believe the things we’re doing are going to help all kids,” says Corcorran, who calls the experience at Newmark serendipitous. “But I believe they’re going to help kids with hurdles even more.”

The mobile Node chair helps students transition from lecture to discussion to group-work mode.

The chairs and classroom setup allow children to move around while also feeling controlling in control of their belongings.

Recent Projects