Elyse Roybal and her son, Luke, were sharing the kitchen table at the start of the school year. His chair wasn’t quite tall enough, and the Piñon Elementary kindergartner was easily distracted by whatever was on his mom’s screen.
“Nothing was really working. He was squatting like a baseball catcher,” Elyse Roybal said. “Nothing was working to get him to focus.”
But now, Luke Roybal and some other Santa Fe elementary students have their own desks at home, thanks to a growing team of local woodworkers sawing, sanding and gluing simple workstations suitable for the city’s youngest learners. The desks help stabilize busy school and work-from-home environments that parents and educators say can be the difference between a student participating in a virtual classroom activity or tuning out.
“It’s been a lifesaver,” Elyse Roybal said. “It eliminates so many distractions, and I really think he’s proud of his own space and during his classes that makes him a little more into it.”
Full-time physicist and part-time woodworker David Gunter has made 18 free desks for Santa Fe Public Schools students. The idea came from his wife Sonya Gunter, an administrator in the district, who explained the need. One of David Gunter’s favorite online woodworking personalities, YouTube’s The Wood Whisperer, outlined the design.
“It’s a very relaxing hobby. I’ll put in earphones and listen to music or a baseball game,” David Gunter said. “We know the plight of a lot of students here, and once I saw the video about making desks, I said, ‘That looks easy enough.’ “
David Gunter said a desk and chair cost about $45 in wood and, now that he’s mastered the process, about two hours of labor, not counting time for glue to dry. On Facebook and other online marketplaces, demand for desks has increased sharply over the summer. One simple school desk and chair were for sale for $100 in Santa Fe on Craigslist recently.
As David Gunter’s wait list pushes toward 30 students, he’s looking to recruit other woodworkers.
Brent O’Connor, who works in commercial real estate, grew up remodeling houses in South Louisiana and built his own garage and woodworking shop off Old Las Vegas Highway. He spent the past week making six desks.
“Woodworking is just a skill I have. It’s fun,” said O’Connor, an Army veteran. “So to be able to give back to the community through woodworking, it was like, ‘Yeah, of course I’ll do it.’ “
Gunter and O’Connor finish the desks so kids can create their own custom paint jobs, an opportunity Mareli Garcia, a third grader at Nina Otero Community School, was happy to take advantage of.
“My desk is all my favorite colors,” Mareli Garcia said. “It’s pink and yellow and blue and gray and that’s it.”
Before she received her desk, Mareli Garcia used to start her day of classes on her bed before moving to a sofa and standing in front of her laptop on a chest of drawers. Now her mother, A.J. Garcia, says she raises her hand and turns on her webcam more frequently, which the district does not require students to do.
“It’s comfortable and helps me in school,” Mareli Garcia said. “I wish all the kids would have one.”
Ramirez Thomas Elementary Principal Loretta Booker agrees every student could use a home desk, as the consistency and routine of the school day have proven difficult to maintain while students are at home.
“A lot of our teachers ask students to find a quiet spot to learn, and for some of our families, that is just not feasible with parents working and pets and babies and just so much going on,” Booker said. “By having a desk to call their own, that’s [one] thing families no longer have to worry about, and it makes students feel safe like, ‘OK, I can go to my own desk and this is where I learn.’ “