The starting bell had rung at Andover High School on a recent Tuesday afternoon, but five students in the back of Richard Wilkie's government class kept standing. Leaning against waist-high desks, they cracked open textbooks and scribbled notes on the foreign policy lesson ahead.
Stand-up desks like these are popping up in classrooms across the Twin Cities metro area, capitalizing on the push toward more flexible furnishings in schools. Teachers say they love the mobility and choice in classrooms; students say their focus is sharpened when they can stand during class.
Administrators would like to have more of these trendy desks, but most districts can afford only a few. The costs are steep: They can range from $250 to $550.
The first-come, first-served desks are hot commodities in Wilkie's afternoon class. "They run to the class to see who can be back there," he said.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District received the desks through a donation from the American Heart Association, and Wilkie's classroom is the only one in the high school to offer them.
"I wish more classes had them," said Alyssa Reinke, an Andover High senior who has used the desks a few times.
In Eastern Carver County School District, Michelle Swenson is facing the same cost challenge. The third-grade teacher at Bluff Creek Elementary in Chanhassen lobbied for a grant from the district's foundation, which gave her money for two new standing desks in her classroom this year. She has her sights set on more options.
"The longer I teach, the longer I see movement is key," she said.
From workplace to schools
Stand-up desks aren't new; they've been showing up in offices across the country. Now the trend is slowly making its way to schools.
In the 2000s, a teacher in the Stillwater School District used adjustable-height desks in her classroom. This fall, San Francisco Bay Area school Vallecito Elementary made headlines when it put standing desks in most of its classrooms.
In the metro area, the Minnetonka and Eden Prairie school districts and a few charter schools have some stand-up desk options.
Ergotron is an Eagan company that manufactures the LearnFit, a $549 desk on wheels with a hand lever to adjust desk height. Equipping a 20-student classroom with those desks would cost almost $11,000.
Daneen Kiger, the company's vice president of marketing, said the desks are expensive because of the high-quality materials and technology used in them.
She said Ergotron is talking with hundreds of schools across the country, both directly and through furniture resellers, and she expects the demand to continue.
The emergence of choice
Standing desks are signaling a shift toward students' ability to choose a work environment that best suits them, Swenson said — a contrast to classrooms where everyone faces forward and teachers present mostly whole-group lessons. She has taught for 20 years and encourages varied seating options in her classroom.
Swenson draws names to see which of her students get to use the two desks for a day. She said she is pleased with the benefits she has seen in her students so far, including using the desk as an outlet to relieve energy; she wants to try to get more grant money for even more seating options, such as recumbent bike desks.
Last week, her students stood at the back of the class at the desks with their laptops perched on top. Their feet were often swinging back and forth on the desk's pendulum bar.
"I definitely foresee some kids increasing their academic achievement with this kind of option available to them," Swenson said.
Beena Raghavendran • 612-673-4569