The Andover Townsman
February 23, 2012
Rubber stability balls are used for exercise and physical therapy across the country. In Andover they're serving another purpose: student chairs.
The school department purchased around 90 stability ball chairs for use in middle school health classrooms. The chairs look exactly like stability balls, except they also have small legs to keep them in place when they're not in use.
Logan Bravo, a 12-year-old student at Wood Hill Middle School, described the chairs as "different, but I like that."
"It's not like a chair. It's like a rock, but comfortable," said Logan. "Normally, kids lean back in their chairs and it doesn't help them with their posture. This focuses on how you sit."
It focuses on posture so much, that students even find it difficult crossing their legs when seated. They have to maintain two feet on the ground at all times, according to health teacher Stacey Consiglio.
"All three of us health teachers say you can pulse — you can't bounce," said Consiglio, very lightly bouncing herself up and down by no more than an inch to demonstrate. "I absolutely love it. I never want to go back to normal chairs."
Brian McNally, director of Health and Physical Education at Andover Public Schools, said he heard about other districts using the chairs and was eager to see how they worked. Key to his interest is that the chairs force the students to balance themselves while seated, which strengthens the core abdominal muscles and encourages healthy sitting and exercising habits.
"You have to balance on the ball, or you will fall," said McNally. "You have to learn how to use it fast."
"It definitely takes getting used to," said Consiglio. But getting used to it only takes one day. "The first day, we are talking about what the curriculum is. That's their time to sit, get adjusted."
She believes there are additional health benefits that stem from using stability ball chairs in the classroom. Students who are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder are given an outlet for their trademark fidgeting when using the balls, and those who become tired in class are more likely to stay alert, as maintaining balance keeps them more active, according to Consiglio.
Kids seemed excited about coming to a recent health class. As the students filed in, they competed over having particular sizes or colors of chairs. When they broke into groups and needed to move elsewhere in the room, some students opted to carry their special chairs instead of sitting on ones near where they were going.
Flipping through a file of student comments, Consiglio reads what some of the students have said. "They are a nice choice and make me sit up straight," one student wrote. Some call the chairs relaxing and comfortable, while others highlight that using a stability ball chair "makes the student focus."
Stability ball chairs cost around $22 each, according to McNally.
Because all middle school health classrooms have the balls instead of normal chairs, every student is exposed to the chairs for one nine-week quarter during the school year. Currently, there are no plans to expand their use into other subject areas like math or social studies, but Wood Hill Middle School Principal Patrick Bucco supports increasing their presence.
"I think it is great," said Bucco. "It would be great if we could get the money to put these in other classrooms. Why wouldn't we, if we saw success?"