For Nancy Dellamore’s young son, sitting still just wasn’t an option. At the age of seven, Nancy’s son was diagnosed with dyslexia. The condition manifested itself partly in nervous energy that could only be released by physical movement. In school, his legs moved frequently, and the stress of trying to stop the restlessness only made it worse. Nancy was shocked to visit his classroom one day and see her son physically strapped into his desk with an assortment of makeshift seat belts.
“It was heartbreaking, and surreal,” she remembers. “He was trying so hard to meet his teacher’s expectations, but he couldn’t fit the mold they were forcing him into. He needed a setting where he could move when necessary, in ways that wouldn’t disrupt the class.”
The family found a solution when they enrolled their son in the Hyde Park Day in Northfield, IL. The school’s director, Casey Crnich, understood the needs of children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, dyslexia, and other conditions to release energy through movement. The school’s faculty accommodated those needs whenever necessary.
Achieving those accommodations was very difficult with traditional classroom furniture. Old-fashioned adjustable desks required adult help and special tools to change heights. A few standing desks were placed at the back of the room, but a child would need to collect all of his materials and walk through the class in order to satisfy his need to stand. As a result, the classroom environment was frequently interrupted and students felt self-conscious about using the alternative desks.
As a Product Manager for The Marvel Group, a Chicago-based designer and manufacturer of office furniture, Nancy saw an opportunity. Marvel design professionals partnered with Hyde Park teachers and students to create a dream desk that would fulfill all their needs.
“We had no preconceived notions of what the desk would look like in the end,” remembers Crnich of the initial discussions. “We passed out blank sheets of paper and had everyone brainstorm about the features and functions they wanted. Then Marvel developed prototypes that everyone had the chance to try out for at least a week, and they used our feedback to improve the design.”
The resulting desk, branded as The Focus Desk™, emphasizes adaptability, organization, and ease of operation, with an overarching goal of promoting student independence. The most dramatic feature is the height-adjusting FeatherTouch™ lift mechanism, a silent lift that a child can easily operate without help whenever the urge to stand arises. The Focus Desk also features attached color-coded hanging files to keep papers organized, rolling casters to make seating rearrangements easy, dedicated storage areas, and foldaway carrel walls for test taking and quiet study.
“This product is a complete re-imagining of what a desk can do,” notes Dellamore. “It empowers the child to stay organized and to self-regulate when an adjustment is required. We’re giving students the tools they need to self-advocate and move forward.”