The night before school started at Vallecito Elementary this year, a group of parents and teachers scrambled to take away the chairs. The Bay Area school became the first in the world to give every student a standing desk.
“There was a palpable buzz around the school about the desks on the first few days of school,” says Juliet Starrett, one of the parents who led the push to transform the school, starting with a pilot program of a single standing classroom last school year.
Juliet and her husband, Kelly Starrett, who also happen to be cofounders of San Francisco Crossfit, are obsessed with helping improve kids’ health. The couple argues that if sitting is the new smoking–responsible for everything from increased rates of obesity and diabetes to shorter lifespans–we probably shouldn’t be training kids in classrooms to sit even more than they already do.
“We estimate that kids today are spending 85 to 90% of their waking hours sitting at school, doing homework, driving to and from school, and in front of screens–to the detriment of their bodies and minds,” says Starrett.
Studies have shown that a switch to a standing desk helps kids as much as adults. They burn 15% to 35% more calories while standing, and actually learn more, too; a student at a standing desk gets the equivalent of an extra 45 minutes of learning each day because they’re more engaged than they would be while slumped in a chair.
After the successful pilot last year, every teacher in the school wanted to switch to standing desks. The parents partnered with DonorsChoose to crowdfund the new desks, and now they’re on a mission to help other schools make the change, through a new nonprofit called StandUpKids.
“This can happen at any school with one champion–whether that’s a teacher or principal,” says Starrett, who credits Vallecito’s principal for her support. “Once there is one standing classroom in action, teachers, students, and parents alike see that the desks create a more dynamic classroom environment, are individually adjusted to each child, and are healthier and better for kids.”
As they made the switch at Vallecito, the biggest challenge was just finding the right desk–something affordable, easy to adjust by the kids themselves, and with features like a “fidget bar” to rest feet and move while standing.
“Our current favorite desk has some of the things we need, but is cumbersome to adjust and requires an army of parent volunteers to adjust the desks in each classroom to fit each child,” says Starrett. “This is obviously not scaleable across the country. But the standing desk market is an emerging one, and we are confident that the perfect, affordable desk will be made or is being made now.”
Their next goal: to raise a $1 million matching grant, so every new standing classroom request on DonorsChoose will automatically be funded.
“Our goal is to get every child in public school at a standing desk in 10 years,” she says.