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Sitting still at a desk all day can be agony for many school kids, the sedentary position is unnatural and can be tiring for extended periods of time. It may sound counterintuitive, but sitting all day in school may make it harder to listen, think and absorb educational content. Not surprisingly, too much sit-time is also one of the obvious culprits behind America's childhood obesity epidemic. Multiple studies indicate the negative impact of decreased physical activity on students' ability to learn, as well as the increased potential for weight gain. Saying enough is enough, one school busted the you-must-sit-still-in-class rule wide open, with the help of a generous sponsor.
No Chair for You
Montera Middle School is a massive Title I enclave located in the heart of Oakland, California. Comprised of a diverse student body, forward-thinking administration and committed educators, Montera found itself lacking one basic necessity – furniture. Krishna Feeney, who teaches algebra at the school, found herself with a large class ready to take on her concentrated curriculum of eighth and ninth grade combined mathematics, but only 12 chairs and no desks to accommodate 34 students.
Around that time, the school's assistant principal, Ashanti Branch, gave a radio interview about the plight of boys in school and what it takes to give them the tools to succeed. During the interview, Branch referenced the difficulty many boys had with sitting still. The interview got a lot of attention, particularly from Ergotron, a company that manufactures standing desks. Unaware of the school's dearth of furniture but anxious to support Branch's mission, the company, which is one of several currently manufacturing standing desks, made a generous furniture donation of LearnFit Desks to the school. It turned out to be an equation made in heaven, and one that resulted in astonishing returns.
Better Health and Better Grades
A self-described, all-day stander, Fenney was ecstatic to get the desks, particularly after doing some research on the concept. The students were harder to convince, at least in the beginning. "The kids were resistant at first and there are still some kids who prefer to sit, from habit," she says. "Now that the novelty has worn off, I would say the kids who like to stand are more attentive than they are when they're sitting. The students have the choice to sit or stand whenever they want to and that's great, because they don't get a lot of choice in their day," she adds.
Branch, who taught math in the classroom for 11 years, wholeheartedly agrees "I was always really big on letting kids get out of their seats and move around. It seemed to be better for them. As a teacher, I learned that movement is essential for brain development. Kid's brains are in rest mode when they are sitting and for young men, the situation is made worse by testosterone kicking through their body at a rapid pace," he says. Standing desks seemed to be the answer they were looking for.
Standing desks are larger than the traditional desk-and-chair combo typically used in classrooms and allow for free movement as well as for group discussions. The desks are adjustable so kids can set them at the appropriate ergonomic location for their height. Standing desks allow students to get their brains in sync with their bodies and channel excess energy into focus and productivity.
It seems to work. Many of Feeney's students requested the option of standing during standardized tests and report less fatigue and more involvement than they did before.
The health benefits to children are also undeniable. Kids who spend just one hour a day at a standing desk, instead of sitting, burn more calories and see a reduction in obesity, according to a study conducted at Texas A&M University. Fenney and Branch are just happy to see a more active and engaged student body. "The idea is it's just healthier to be standing. Even blood flow throughout the body and to the brain is improved," says Feeney. "Sitting in a chair is a learned behavior. It's taught in school, but not necessarily in my class."
To see Montera's standing algebra whiz-kids in action, click here to watch a short video shot in Ms. Fenney's classroom.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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