The pandemic has upended life as we know it, and school is no exception. But virtual learning is even more of a challenge when you’re sharing a “desk” with your sister at the kitchen table, or trying to memorize times tables on top of your bed.
Desks by Dads is trying to remedy this situation by building school desks for students who’ve found this sudden shift to virtual learning further complicated by a lack of basic classroom furniture. “It feels good,” one seventh grade student, Brandon Sanchez, told Good Morning America, describing the new desk provided to him by the Maryland community group. “I can concentrate more because I’m in my room and there’s no noise around me,” said Sanchez, who – like many students – had been struggling to complete his online lessons around the dining room table.
Desks by Dads was created by Jessica and Al Berrellez, a Gaithersburg, Maryland couple who realized many of their neighbors didn’t have (and often couldn’t afford) home desks to help facilitate their kids’ online learning. “A lot of the students in our school who are low income may live in smaller spaces or in households that have multiple families,” Jessica Berrellez told GMA. “I started talking to families and it was pretty clear that kids were all working together at a table or working at their beds and it became clear that there was a need.”
This led Berrellez, who has 3 school-aged children of her own, to start researching second-hand desks online, where she was struck by the lack of affordable options. This led Jessica to ask her husband to design a more economical DIY option they could share in their community. After consulting with YouTube, Al developed the blueprint for basic desk that required just $40 worth of materials and one hour of assembly. After the couple shared their prototype on Facebook, Desks by Dads was born.
According to Good Morning America, Desks by Dads has already provided dozens of free desks for low-income students around Gaithersburg, Maryland, and these proactive dads plan to keep building desks for as long as students need them. “Each volunteer who builds a desk makes it better and that’s been awesome to watch,” Al Berrellez told GMA. “Every time someone drops off a donated desk to our house, we get to share ideas and build connections. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the strengths of Black and brown dads, and show what we can contribute.”
In addition to showcasing the strength and resiliency of this community, Desks by Dads is a good way for husbands and fathers to invest in their kids’ education. “Oftentimes it’s the moms who are sort of responsible for supporting and organizing our children’s education and more actively involved in volunteering, so this is a nice way to get dads involved and to capitalize on their strengths,” Jessica Berrellez said.
Welcome to the original Desks by Dads page! Desks by Dads is a personal weekend project started by Jess & Al Berrellez…
Regardless, this family is thrilled to see their weekend project blossom into a community-wide effort. “We’re just two, busy parents who saw there’s a need and we care about the children and families in our community and we want to help in a very small way,” said Jessica Berrellez. “I think that’s how change happens. It requires everyday people doing small things and having that grow into something bigger.”
Please visit Desks by Dads on Facebook if you would like to help support this inspiring community effort.
J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.