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St. Mary's students find stand-up desks bring more focus, fun

Teachers may want to reconsider that chewing gum restriction at school.

A small but growing body of research shows that allowing students to quietly move about at their desks can help them better focus on learning. Gum chewing, squeeze balls and resistance bands all can help – along with standing desks.

“How can schools create classrooms that support self-regulation? The answer lies in both classroom equipment and policy,” said Nancy Dellamore of Chicago, product manager for the Marvel Group Stand Up Desk, one of the devices teachers at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf are using in a few classrooms to enhance learning. Learn more at

Sarah Niesyty, who teaches four students in grades 3 to 5, has four of the desks, which allow students to sit – in a chair or on an exercise ball – or stand as they handle reading and writing assignments, and other schoolwork. The desks are part of a pilot project to see if they can boost student concentration and learning.

“This allows them to be at their desks and be light with their feet,” Niesyty said. “I’ve heard that other students sometimes are allowed to pace back and forth in the back of the room but that can be distracting, especially when our students are so visual.

Wendy Chuba, left, a St. Mary's English Language Arts teacher, works at a Balt stand up desk with seventh-grader Kioneyshka Alvira-Jurado, 13.

Her classroom is one of three in the Main Street school – which has about 50 elementary and 50 high school students – where students are trying out desks and other devices designed to burn off calories, channel nervous energy and focus learning.

Kirsten Helm, a high school social studies teacher, has stationary bike desks, under desk peddles and yoga stools in her classroom, as well as two desk extenders that allow her students to stand as they tackle school work.

Wendy Chuba, who teaches creative writing, English and social studies to middle and high school students, works in a classroom with five Balt Up-Rite Adjustable Height Sit/Stand desks. These desks have a kidney-shaped side that faces students, making it easier for them to sit on an exercise ball while working. They also have adjustable foot rests.

“They’re really easy to work with,” said Chuba, whose students range in height from 4 feet to 6 feet tall.

The focus desks in Niesyty’s classroom have a latch with five different slats, so the desks can be adjusted to different levels.

“It’s nice because when students use the ball, it’s a little different height and they can put the desk top where they need when they’re working,” she said. “Students are free to stand or sit while we’re doing a lesson. They’re definitely more engaged when they’re moving around and not having to sit still. When we do reading tests, I have a student who will pick the desk with the ball chair. ... My teacher’s assistant likes it, too. She sits on a ball chair.

Students appreciate them, too.

Tyler Phillips, 11, left, a fifth-grader, pictured with Sarah Niesyty, says he enjoys his stand up desk.

Tyler Phillips, 11, a fifth-grader, smiled and laughed as he worked on a project recently with Niesyty. He said, in sign language, that the desk gave him more sense of freedom.

“They’re fun and because there’s a ball, too you can move around,” signed Zarielle Ormsby, 8, a third-grader.

Dellamore, the focus desk project manager, designed the desk for with students who have dyslexia and ADHD. Niesyty has found that her students – all visual learners – have benefited as well.

The desks cost $400, “which is part of the reason we only have four,” Associate Principal Aimee L. Bell said. “We have a goal of looking for grant money to fund more of this kind of equipment. It increases a student’s ability to concentrate.”

Associate Principal Joy Higgins said students, teachers and administrators appreciate desks that are dynamic enough to keep students up or down during various parts of the day.

“Research shows that it’s not good to stand all day, either,” Higgins said, adding, “I think they’ve been a good value, considering. They’ve been well received. After lunch, when getting into an afternoon slump, it’s better to stand.”

Another sign the desks are catching on?

“I wish I had one,” Bell said.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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