Parents and educators collaborate to create the adjustable Focus Desk for students with learning challenges

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One child's struggle inspires an exciting classroom innovation: the height adjustable Focus Desk from The Marvel Group.

"The experience of helping their son meet his educational goals inspired them to develop a specialized classroom desk that allows kids to switch between sitting and standing at a moment’s notice, without any adult help required.

For Nancy Dellamore’s young son, sitting still just wasn’t an option. Like many children, especially those with learning differences and special needs, physical movement was a key element of his ability to focus on schoolwork. The experience of helping her son meet his educational goals inspired Dellamore and her husband Jack to develop a specialized classroom desk that allows kids to switch between sitting and standing at a moment’s notice, without any adult help required.

At the age of seven, Dellamore’s son was diagnosed with dyslexia. The condition manifested itself partly in nervous energy that could only be released by physical movement. In school, his legs moved nervously, and the stress of trying to stop the restlessness only made it worse. Nancy was shocked to visit his first-grade classroom one day and see her son physically strapped into his desk with an assortment of makeshift seatbelts.

“It was heartbreaking, and surreal,” remembers Dellamore. “He was trying so hard to meet his teacher’s expectations, but he couldn’t fit the mold they were forcing him into. He needed a setting where he could move when necessary, in ways that wouldn’t disrupt the class.”

Dellamore and her husband Jack found a school that recognized the benefits of movement when they enrolled their son in the University of Chicago Hyde Park Day School’s Northfield campus. This school provides specialized education for bright students with learning disabilities. The school’s director, Casey Crnich, understood the needs of children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other conditions to release energy through movement. The school’s faculty accommodated those needs whenever necessary.

Despite the necessity of movement in the classroom, the practicalities of the situation presented some drawbacks. The school had some adjustable desks, but they required adults using special tools to change from sitting to standing mode. A few standing desks were placed at the back of the room, but a child would need to collect all of his materials and walk through the class in order to satisfy his need to stand. As a result, the classroom environment was frequently interrupted and students felt self-conscious about using the alternative desks.

As a Product Manager for The Marvel Group, a Chicago-based designer and manufacturer of office furniture, Dellamore saw an opportunity to provide Hyde Park School students with a desk that would serve their individual needs. The company offered to make a significant donation of new desks to the school – desks that would be designed with direct input from Hyde Park teachers and students.

“We had no preconceived notions of what the desk would look like in the end,” remembers Crnich of the initial discussions. “We passed out blank sheets of paper and had everyone brainstorm about the features and functions they wanted. Then Marvel developed prototypes that everyone had the chance to try out for at least a week, and they used our feedback to improve the design.”

The resulting desk, branded as The Focus Desk™, emphasizes adaptability, organization, and ease of operation, with an overarching goal of promoting student independence. The most dramatic feature is the height-adjusting FeatherTouch™ lift mechanism, a silent lift that a child can easily operate without help whenever the urge to stand arises. The Focus Desk also incorporates a number of the teachers’ wish list items, including attached color-coded hanging files to keep papers organized, rolling casters to make seating rearrangements easy, dedicated storage areas, and foldaway carrel walls for test taking and quiet study.

“This product is a complete re-imagining of what a desk can do,” notes Dellamore. “It empowers the child to stay organized and to self-regulate when an adjustment is required. In a classroom filled with these desks, movement becomes a normal part of the day without any disruption to the learning process. We’re giving students the tools they need to self-advocate and move forward.”

The benefits of this accommodative class structure are apparent in the case of Dellamore’s son. Now 17 and getting ready to start college in the fall, he has learned to accept that some people learn differently from others and that shifting paradigms can unlock the potential of any child. His experience, and his parents’, has created an innovation that may change the way classrooms look for future generations.

To learn more, contact Nancy Dellamore, Product Manager, at or 603 248 0630. To see the The Focus Desk in action, visit

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Nancy Gerstein
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