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Sandy Journal

Park Lane Students with Special Needs, Others, to Benefit with Grants

Jan 04, 2016 01:46PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Julie Slama

Sandy - Park Lane Elementary special education teacher Diane Nahalewski was recognized Nov. 2 for improving classroom desks for students with special needs with a DonorsChoose grant funded by Google, as those company representatives, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, President of Utah Senate Wayne Niederhauser and Canyons School District officials joined students at the surprise assembly.

Applauding her innovative project, a desk that allows students to stand or sit on a stool and allow their feet to swing, Google decided to fund her DonorsChoose grant request of $600, as well as up to $2,500 in future grant requests. 

“It’s exciting to see an educator using her imagination and creativity to solve a problem to make things better,” Dolan said. “With some PVC pipe, a swimming pool noodle, bungee cords and zip ties, Mrs. Nahalewski has discovered a way to turn a regular school desk into a standing desk with a foot swing, which helps students have a better chance to learn. What a remarkable project.”

Google’s Angie Welling said that by transforming a typical school desk, “She developed a way for people of all ages, in all countries and of all abilities, to improve their learning. All students deserve access to technology and better learning environments and Mrs. N, as she is called, certainly has inspired us with her innovative project.”

However, that wasn’t all Google funded. Following other requests with Donors Choose, Google agreed to fund 53 other projects amounting to $60,000 for students with special needs that will impact 5,000 students in Salt Lake and Utah counties. This is part of Google’s philanthropic efforts to expand opportunity and independence for the 6.4 million students with disabilities in the U.S. public education system, Welling said.

“This is huge for our state, as we can use the funding to help educational projects that are innovative and creative, especially for our students with special needs,” Niederhauser said. “We’re thankful for our partners that help our children with their education.”

Nahalewski credited parent Jen Scott, as she had seen a similar desk online and thought it would benefit her son, Chase. When Scott offered to pay for the $300 desk last spring, Nahalewski suggested she wait and took a school desk home to try to convert it on her own.

After using about $100 of her own money to purchase PVC pipes, plumber cement and supplies, along with tools to cut PVC pipe, Nahalewski made her first desk and even added a few touches of her own, such as a foot swing made with a pool noodle. 

“Students have a lot of energy, and having a stand-up desk allows them to use that energy to focus on their work, “Nahalewski said. “I added the foot swing so they can keep their feet moving if they choose to sit. If not, they’d be playing with pencils and fidgeting.”

When she brought the desk in, it was an instant hit. So much so that Nahalewski and Scott have been converting several desks and can retrofit them for about $12 apiece, Scott said. They purchase old stools at garage sales and repaint them to add color to the classroom. They have even begun fulfilling other teachers’ requests for standing desks in their classrooms.

Scott, who is a nurse and an athlete, said that studies show that stand-up desks would not only benefit all students, but all people who work behind a traditional desk.

“Studies show elementary students are more ready to learn when they’re able to have the option to stand, and it helps with their energy levels, it reduce obesity and they are able to focus better,” she said.

For her son, now in fourth grade, the standing desk Nahalewski made has “just been an amazing improvement with his attention in the class and with his education,” she said.

Principal Justin Jeffery appreciates Nahalewski’s efforts.

“We appreciate our teachers trying to meet the needs of all learners, and Diane (Nahalewski) certainly has found innovative ways to meet her students’ needs,” he said.

DonorsChoose’s Hannah Peter said that DonorsChoose appreciates teachers like Nahalewski.

“I’m just in awe of you and everything you do,” Peter told her. “You are our hero.