Pottstown wins national essay contest, gets 30 sit-stand classroom desks

Pottstown High School students pose for a photo with height-adjustable standing desks. The students helped put the desks together after the school won them in a Let’s Move! Active Schools essay contest.
Pottstown High School students pose for a photo with height-adjustable standing desks. The students helped put the desks together after the school won them in a Let’s Move! Active Schools essay contest. Michilea Patterson — Digital First Media

To sit or to stand, is not only the question but also the option that Pottstown High School students will now have in class.

The school was awarded a classroom set of “Learn Fit” sit/stand desks from the Minnesota-based company Ergotron for winning a Let’s Move! Active Schools essay contest. The healthy school movement is part of former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative.

On Tuesday, representatives from Let’s Move! and Ergotron came to Pottstown to see the desk be put together. About 30 high school students volunteered their afternoon to get the fit desks and the stools that came along with them ready for classroom use.

“Let’s Move! Active Schools is a national initiative to help schools implement more before, during and after school physical activity,” said Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the organization.

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She said more than 400 schools nationwide entered the essay contest. What put Pottstown on top was its approach of creating healthier kids in order to make better learners.

“They’re taking a really comprehensive approach to student wellness so we knew this was a piece of a puzzle,” Burgeson said adding they like to “empower” schools that are already incorporating healthy activities.

She said Pottstown’s essay was also chosen because it showed the school focuses on mental health in addition to physical health. Burgeson said kids across the nation struggle with anxiety or depression. She said it was nice to see that Pottstown is making mental wellness apart of the school environment.

“We just felt that this was a really enlightened school system and that this school was really prepared to take full advantage of this classroom set of desks,” Burgeson said.

She said students spend the majority of the school day in the classroom so making that environment “active” really helps with promoting healthy students.

Bob Hill, education manager for Ergotron, said high school students are less likely to have teachers doing things like brain breaks so a standing desk is a great way to incorporate activity.

“The idea is we want to introduce what’s called low-level physical activity, or standing, into the classroom. Because when you introduce low-level physical activity into the classroom, you help keep the student’s heart rate higher, you help them burn more calories … and that translates to a more engaged student with greater on-task behavior,” Hill said.

Pottstown School District wellness coordinator David Genova wrote the winning essay that resulted in the high school getting 30 sit/stand desks from Ergotron which are valued at $16,500. He said the essay focused on how the district is actively using movement in the classroom.

A previous grant allowed the high school construction technology program to make 36 standing desks that were distributed throughout the district. Schools in Pottstown are also using kinesthetic desks which are desks that incorporate physical activity such as adding pedals to resemble a stationary bike.

Fit desks are not new to Pottstown High School but principal Danielle McCoy said these are the first height-adjustable desks they’ve ever had. Students can change the height of the desks to a sitting or standing position. Students can also easily adjust the desk according to their height. McCoy said another great aspect of the desks is that there are wheels which make them easy to move around.

She said it’s “awesome” that Pottstown High School was given the desks because not every student learns best by sitting down all the time.

According to the Cornell University Ergonomics website, it’s recommended that people break up prolonged sitting with short breaks of standing or moving. Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in the working environment. The “microbreaks” improve performance and reduces the risks of muscle or skeletal injuries.

“Students need desks period so why not give them a desk that allows them to either stand up or sit down,” said Burgeson adding that the desks are a great tool for the learning process.

Genova said he has worked hard to attain desks that incorporate movement or standing.

“There are teachers that need them. There are teachers that want them,” he said.

The recently awarded sit/stand desks are being used in the classroom of high school mathematics teacher Jolie Martinez.

“She’s an innovative teacher. She’s one that always willing to try something new if it could possibly benefit her students,” Genova said.

He said standing desks are especially beneficial to students that tend to be more “wiggly.”

“When they feel like they need to stand, they can stand. When they feel like they need to sit, they can sit without classroom interruption,” Genova said.

Pottstown High School junior Emily Jerdon said she sometimes doses off in class when she’s sitting.

“I’m more of like a kid that has to keep moving so when I’m sitting down, obviously my body’s not active,” Jerdon said.

“I feel like it would keep my brain active,” said junior Gianna Epps in reference to standing desks.

Senior Josh Gery has used a standing desk before and said it kept him alert during class.

“School’s way too important to be falling asleep so you can just pop it up, stand, and keep yourself awake while giving your whole attention to learning,” he said.

Hill said the great thing about the Ergotron desks is that they don’t require students to stand the whole time in class. He said the goal is not to have students sitting all the time but also don’t have them standing all the time.

“The best posture is the next posture; just kind of keep moving throughout the day. Listen to your body. Shift from one foot to the next,” Hill said.

The sit/stands desk are on wheels which Hill says helps teacher have more freedom when it comes to organizing the classroom for different purposes.

“Furniture is no longer dictating the lesson plan. The teachers can do their lesson plans as they want,” he said.

Hill said teachers using the desk tell Ergotron all the time that the mobility allows them to teach in a way that’s best for students. He said students are also more engaged when they have the option of sitting or standing which improves the classroom dynamic. Hill said the desks show that there are links between activity and learning.

“Ergotron partners with Let’s Move! Active Schools because we are both huge believers in making sure we introduce wellness and health to our students as early as possible in life so that it becomes a habit for them,” he said.

The Mercury is engaged in a long-term effort, Fit for Life, designed to promote healthy living. In addition to articles in the newspaper and on our website, Fit for Life features a blog with recipes, health tips such as getting fit without breaking the bank and other tools all available free online. Visit the website at pottsmercfit4life.com, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MercFit4Life and follow our efforts on Twitter @MercFit4Life.

Michilea Patterson is the Fit for Life reporter and is funded in part by the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation.