St. Lucy first-grade teacher Tammy Groenke watches her students as they work on a project in class. (Photos by Larry Hanson)

The first-graders in Tammy Groenke’s class at St. Lucy School in Racine are undergoing a paradigm shift in how classrooms are organized.

Because of the delivery of 23 modular tables in mid-January, the first-graders have said goodbye to the traditional rows and columns of desks and started using the pie-shaped desks, which allow for a variety of configurations.

The money for the tables came from a $5,000 grant from the Grant Initiatives for Today’s Students (GIFTS) program, which receives its funding from the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Schools Dinner, which is scheduled this year for Thursday, March 10.

“It is wonderful to have those extra funds to have something a little special for us that we normally wouldn’t be able to budget for,” St. Lucy Principal Sarah Thostenson said.

Because of the overwhelming popularity of the new desks, Thostenson said she has ordered 50 more for the school.

The modular tables allow for students to work in groups of six in what is described as a pizza or flower shape.

Groenke said the arrangement, which allows for communication between students but still maintains an aura of personal space, makes collaborative learning easier because the students are facing each other as opposed to lined up in traditional rows.

“They learn a lot from each other just from talking and sharing,” Groenke said.

The collaborative model is one that is starting to help prepare students for life, both as they advance in their education and when they join the workforce.

“If you’re used to just sitting by yourself and working by yourself, it doesn’t prepare you for life,” Groenke said. “You learn off of each other and together. This is really going to help them do that.”

Thostenson, who is in her second year as principal at St. Lucy after spending two years at Our Lady of Grace, said all of the Siena schools applied for the GIFTS grants, but she struggled with settling on what she wanted/needed for her school.

After consulting with her learning support coordinator and tossing around a few ideas, Thostenson said they ultimately landed on acquiring the tables.

“We’re really focused on improving our literacy scores and literacy instruction, and really fine-tuning that,” Thostenson said. “One great way to do that is to have students cooperatively learning, and so a way to do that is with these. They can be a single desk or they can be pushed together for partnership.”

Before the new tables arrived, Groenke and Thostenson spent some time preparing the students for them.

Even by the end of their first week with them, the students had already mastered the various configurations they can go in and how to assemble different shapes with the pie-shaped tables.

“I’ve wanted tables since I’ve started here,” Groenke said. “These are awesome.”

“The kids are loving them,” Thostenson said. “They think they’re the greatest things.”

The Schools Dinner will be held at the Hyatt Regency, 333 W. Kilbourn Ave., Milwaukee, and begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m. To register for the event, visit archmil.regfox.schoolsdinner2022. For more information, contact Paige Rohr, the associate director for Catholic schools development, at 414-769-3451 or