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Decorated for success: Kids give up recess to hang out in classroom

Carol Novotney, a teacher at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Federal Way, pauses from her classroom decorating efforts to look at a book in a completed area of her classroom. - Margo Horner, The Mirror
Carol Novotney, a teacher at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Federal Way, pauses from her classroom decorating efforts to look at a book in a completed area of her classroom.
— image credit: Margo Horner, The Mirror

For weeks before school starts, while children are still sleeping in late, playing in the sun and watching too much television, Carol Novotney is back in her Mirror Lake Elementary classroom, quietly preparing for the new year.

There are kites to hang, posters to tack up, lamps to light, books to arrange, rugs to lay and furniture to place.

Novotney is a guru of classroom interior design. Her learning wonderland is quite possibly the best-decorated classroom in the Federal Way School District.

“It’s a phenomenal classroom,” said principal Kent Cross. “It has the different genres and themes for reading. It’s high interest for kids. Kids give up their recesses to go in there.”

Kids give up their recess to sit in Novotney’s classroom, and folks from local businesses give up their lunch hours to do so as well. Novotney, a reading teacher, student assessment facilitator and teacher coach, hosts a tutoring program at Mirror Lake and invites more than 60 community members to tutor kids in her classroom for half an hour each day.

When the tutors visit, adults and students sprawl out in the classroom on comfortable chairs beneath lamps.

“I try to create little areas where they can sit and be comfy,” Novotney said.

Most of the furniture came from Novotney’s home, garage sales or thrift stores.

Hundreds of books are stacked up or displayed. There are countless things to look at: Stuffed Dr. Seuss characters, fish, a well-dressed skeleton... There’s an ocean theme section, a garden theme section and a pirate corner.

“I want a really nice environment for kids. I want them to come back,” Novotney said.

Such a richly decorated room provides educational opportunities and motivation for students to read, Cross said.

“We can predict those kids are going to make reading growth just by being here,” he said. “She really has a great sense in what it takes to develop an enriched environment for elementary kids.”

The most rewarding part of her room, Novotney said, is hearing students talk about what they learned there.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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