OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Students have spent an unprecedented amount of time learning online this year — some by choice, some by mandate, others by necessity. Simultaneously, headlines across the country have reported a steep increase in failing grades.
Among the factors impacting academic performance is the variety of distractions students face in a home setting, and the absence of a space dedicated to studying.
Rod Belnap, the director of career and technical education in the Weber School District, witnessed the difficulties of at-home learning earlier this year when his own children had to quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Standard-Examiner reported.
“I know that it helps to have a place for students to work in the house,” he said.
After Belnap saw a story on TV about two men in California who were building desks for students, he realized the district’s wood shop classes could do the same to accomplish two objectives at once — learn woodworking techniques while serving struggling students.
“There’s no question that online learning has made it so that there’s a need,” he said. “There are more students who are learning online, and with so many students at home in the same household, space is an issue. So these desks are a good solution to help students.”
Belnap shared the idea with teachers in the district, and one high school and six junior high schools took him up on it.
Students began working on the child-sized desks in November and have made over 200, Belnap said. But local schools weren’t alone in the endeavor. Belnap reached out to one of his former students from Bonneville High School, Kyle Redd of Redd Roofing, to pitch in.
“We are always looking for a way to give back to our community and pay things forward, so when this opportunity came about, we didn’t hesitate to say yes,” Redd said.
Redd reached out to Wheelwright Lumber, in Ogden, and they split the cost of lumber with Redd Roofing. Employees then built 200 additional desks themselves to donate.
According to Belnap, all but 50 to 60 of the desks have been claimed by students throughout the Weber School District. Wood shop students have delivered the desks to families living inside their school boundaries, often benefitting elementary students who haven’t graduated to junior high yet.
“It’s really neat they get to deliver them to families in their own communities,” Belnap said.
A significant portion of the desks were donated to Weber Online students who completely opted out of in-person classes this year. The Weber School District’s newly established K-12 alternative school has so far enrolled approximately 3,000 students, or 9.2% of the district’s population.
Transitioning to online learning has been a difficult adjustment for some children, but having a routine makes keeping up with school work easier, said Jennifer Boyer-Thurgood, the principal of Weber Online.
“We know that having a space contributes to a great educational routine for kids,” she noted.
Beyond helping students get their online work done on time, Boyer-Thurgood said, the donations help families feel like they are supported by the district in a time when COVID-19 has made parenting more difficult.
Belnap said the project has been a great opportunity for students to display their accomplishments in the community. But beyond that, the experience of seeing their handiwork benefit others is just as beneficial to students as knowing how to do the work in the first place.
“When students are involved in a project like this, they can see how the skills that they’re developing can truly make a difference in the lives of families at the time that it’s needed,” Belnap said. “It’s a life skill that they will apply over and over again in different settings.”