With its faux grass, rolling garage doors, open feel and sit-where-you-want configuration, a new "glass classroom" at Eastside Elementary School in Denham Springs is providing students a refreshing change of scenery educators hope will also help them learn.

The open concept classroom was built by closing in two walls of a previously covered space, utilizing two large glass walls with a rolling door to open to a courtyard.

“The idea is to allow them to choose where they learn. It’s like we do as adults where you might go to a coffee shop or the park or sit on your couch, so it’s the same for them,” Principal Kelly LaBauve said.

She attended a conference in Tampa, Florida, recently where several schools have crafted outdoor spaces and came back proposing that Eastside do the same. Having been open since the start of the school year and almost fully booked by teachers of all grade levels, she says it’s been a success.

“I saw a video recently that likened schools to prisons with the four walls, so we thought how to do we get outside of the four walls? And this does it,” LaBauve said.

One day recently, a class of first and fifth grade students combined to read “Tomas and the Library Lady” to each other. The groups spun around on tall chairs at tables or rocked back and forth on small seats on the ground as they read. Some had cushions on the floor, and others propped their workbooks up on their knees.

Fifth grader Will Cox said he worked with the younger kids Wednesday by teaching them new words and showing them how you can learn issues or themes from books. He said doing so in a place where you aren’t confined to a desk and chair makes it all the more fun.

“In a regular classroom, it’s kind of boring because you just have to write on paper, but in here, there’s flexible seating and different options you can play with,” he said.

LaBeauve said she’s seen students who are usually quiet and reserved in their regular classrooms become more involved in the different setting and has seen an increased focus in class when the kids go back to their usual room after expelling some energy.

She said she pledged about $10,000 of the school’s budget to fund the furniture and technology in the room and wrote a proposal to the Livingston Parish School Board to make up the rest.

LaBauve didn’t know the total cost of funding the new room, but school system spokeswoman Delia Taylor said it’s about half the cost of constructing a new classroom.

The "glass classroom" has been enough of a success that the district is planning to use the same concept in constructing Southside Junior High, Southside Elementary and Denham Springs Elementary, LaBauve said.

"I'm watching these students who usually struggle just a little, even if it's just struggling in their own minds, and now they have confidence so that shift has been amazing to watch," she said.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.