Stella Matayo’s paint brush moved across the plain, pale yellow wood of her new desk, brightening its lower edge with bolder green, red and blue.
“I’m making the grass because the birds like grass,” Stella, 7, said.
One such grass-loving bird — Stella said it was a leprechaun bird — was drawn in the center of her desk, above the grassland she was creating. It hovered, sunny yellow, with huge red feet dangling beneath it.
Her desk and the handful of others being painted by her classmates were a recent donation to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center’s hybrid learning program for Rock Island-Milan School District students. The program was created so students kept from their normal learning routines by the coronavirus have a place to participate in online learning while their parents work.
Before getting the desks, the students were at a big table, which made it hard for them to keep their distance from each other, Rebecca Arnold, resource development manager for the center, said. The desks give them their own space.
Students have been working at home, and in many cases they don’t have a dedicated study space,” Hugh Stafford, who started the desk project — called MyOwnDesk — said.
They might be using the floor, or the kitchen table, Stafford, 76, of Bettendorf, said.
“They’d be better off if they had a place of their own,” he said.
Stafford said he localized the idea after seeing a news report about someone else who was making desks for online learners in another part of the country. He recruited John Kessler, who had the needed carpentry skills, and they got to work.
They are using area nonprofits and other organizations to identify students who might benefit from having a desk at which to work. Some of the desks are being used in a classroom setting like at the King Center, while others are going to homes.
K&K Hardware & Lumber donated the initial lumber when the project began in early November, and Stafford has been fundraising for the rest, he said.
As of Friday, Jan. 1, they’d given away 86 desks, he said. Students on both sides of the Mississippi River have received them with the help of entities like the King Center, Project Renewal, YMCA and the Davenport Community School District.
Stafford said those organizations’ staffers, who already work with the students getting desks, are heroes.
The YMCA was planning to start with 10 or 12 desks but could easily see the need for many times that, Frank Klipsch IV, communications and marketing director for the YMCA, said. At the time of the interview, the Y had not yet picked its desks up.
Initially the desks will be going to the households of students the YMCA staff know from its programs, he said. The staff will also be talking to other organizations the YMCA works with to identify need for the desks.
Deshawn Shouts, the YMCA’s program director for Y Solutions, said that some of the desks distributed through the YMCA could also eventually be used at its Quad-Cities locations.
As an example of conditions in which students have been trying to study, Shouts said one family with which the YMCA works has been living in hotels.
“They may have WiFi at the hotel and they may not have WiFi, but they’re doing work on the hotel bed and hopefully they get a connection,” he said.
They have been able to come to the YMCA to get better internet access, he said.
“These desks are going to be so helpful,” Shouts said.
Cindy Broadie is a family involvement liaison for the Wilson and Garfield elementary schools in Davenport. She helps families who need it — connecting them with school or community resources or answering questions.
This can range from helping students with their academics to making sure they are getting food, she said. During the pandemic, many of these efforts have become more intense, and helping families navigate through remote learning was added to the list.
As of Tuesday, she had arranged for five desks to be distributed to students in her schools, Broadie said. She asked teachers to watch their students as they worked online — where they were learning and how they were performing — to help her identify where the desks would be of most use.
One of the identified families was that of Arvis Quinn. A desk went to her 9-year-old, Amerious, and another, later, went to her 14-year-old, Ashdon.
Quinn said her sons are enrolled in the Davenport schools’ hybrid learning model and the family struggled to find the best place in the home for school work.
Finally, they settled for the kitchen table, but that was problematic when both boys were trying to listen to their teachers online at the same time, Quinn said.
“They were always in each other’s way,” Quinn said.
She said she’d wanted to get them desks herself, but they were expensive.The donated desks have helped.
“It’s been great,” Quinn said. “They both are in their own room, in their own space.”
Ashdon said he preferred learning in a classroom to having to learn from home, where he had to find a space to work.
The desk has made his hybrid classes feel a little more like school, he said.