Students at Great Salt Bay Community School are getting a leg up on education, as classrooms throughout the building have started adding standing desks.
The initiative began early in the school year, when Bethany Hancock, the occupational therapist for AOS 93, started emailing Principal Kim Schaff articles detailing the benefits a standing desk has on children who sometimes need to fidget or wiggle.
The standing desks adjust to the student’s height and have fidget bars to move back and forth with the student’s foot.
“For some of these kids, they’re trying so hard to focus on not fidgeting and not moving that they’re missing what the teacher is saying,” Hancock said. “They’re trying to split their attention between what’s going on around them and trying to stay still and it’s affecting their learning.”
Schaff was able to purchase two standing desks using money available in the facilities budget.
“The feedback we were getting from teachers was immediately positive,” Schaff said.
Around the same time, Danielle McNichol, a second-grade teacher at GSB, was trying to determine a way to keep some of her students with attention issues engaged and focused. One of her students, Canon Smith, had expressed the need to move more during the school day.
“Although I have frequent movement breaks and movement tasks in place, it still was not enough,” McNichol said. “He simply needed to move while working to keep himself focused and attentive.”
Maintenance Supervisor Mark Hagar brought the idea of standing desks up to McNichol. After reading an article Hagar suggested and watching a video clip on the benefits of standing desks, McNichol decided to pursue one for her classroom.
On Jan. 15, McNichol posted about the need for standing desks in the classroom on DonorsChoose.org, a site where public school educators post about classroom needs, from providing books for a specific unit of study to trips to visit colleges. Donors can choose among the projects.
After posting on DonorsChoose.org, McNichol heard the GSB Parent Teacher Organization had voted to provide the school $431.26 to purchase two more standing desks during its January meeting. McNichol approached Schaff about receiving one of the desks for her classroom.
Earlier this month, McNichol received the standing desk for Canon. The results were visible the same day.
“We had been working with the teacher to try and find ways for him to move during the day, because that’s really what kids are meant to do,” said Conor Smith, Canon’s father.
Smith is a member of the Great Salt Bay School Committee.
“He came home one day and told us he had a new desk,” Smith said. “You could tell he was just invigorated and excited to learn. He did his homework that night without being asked.”
Canon will soon be getting a standing desk at home as well.
“We were looking into getting him a desk to do his homework on, but now it just makes sense for it to be a standing desk,” Smith said. “It’s really been life-changing for him.”
McNichol said Canon’s ability to attend to tasks and remain engaged and focused during the school day has also drastically improved.
“What he was able to accomplish in 1 1/2 weeks of writing is now accomplished in 40 minutes,” McNichol said. “(He) is happier and completing tasks with more ease.”
After Canon received his standing desk, McNichol said more students in the class started to request desks. She will soon have two more desks in her classroom. In addition to a donation by Damariscotta resident Caroline Janover, McNichol’s request on DonorsChoose.org was fully funded as a part of Best School Day, a “flash mob” philanthropy effort on March 10.
Actress and Maine native Anna Kendrick funded 31 classroom projects across the state on DonorsChoose.org. An anonymous donor joined with Kendrick to fund an additional 43 requests.
“I read the email three times before even announcing it to my family or Kim Schaff,” McNichol said. “I was in disbelief.”
McNichol said the desks from DonorsChoose.org will arrive between March 17-26, at which point the school will have seven standing desks spread throughout the building.
Schaff said she hopes to one day have a desk in each classroom.
“When you look at the health benefits, the improved focus, everything, it’s a no-brainer,” Schaff said. “Every student could benefit from using a desk like this.”
In the meantime, teachers have taken to creating solutions that offer similar results as a standing desk. Chad Hanna, the husband of first-grade teacher Mary Hanna, created a fidget bar for desks using PVC pipes. In another classroom, large rubber bands are used for fidget bands to give students something to bounce their foot on throughout the day.
“We have some clever folks around here to figure out a way we can provide this opportunity for more kids without having to pay more than $200 per desk,” GSB Assistant Principal Ira Michaud said.
McNichol would also like to see the program expanded so more students can use the standing desks.
“Not only do they improve our overall health, they truly are impacting our students’ ability to remain engaged, happy students,” McNichol said. “It would be so helpful if we could get more in the classrooms and any help we can have toward reaching that goal would be truly appreciated.
“After seeing it in action, using it a bit myself, I know I would like to have one just for my own use when creating lesson plans or any other classroom work.”