Ross Porter recalls the first time he knew he was making a difference, providing students with free, refurbished desks. “I set the first five desks I got up on the stage,” says the woodshop teacher at Lincoln High School in Yonkers. “And as soon as I heard the first student say, ‘Thank you so much. I don’t have to do my homework on my bed anymore,’ I knew that it was well worth all the effort.”
Porter spent two decades in the construction business before turning to education in 2000 and has been teaching woodshop ever since. Yet, this December, he found an entirely new way to help the students he loves: “The school’s principal [Ian Sherman] came to my room in September,” recalls Porter. “He told me about a woodshop teacher somewhere in the United States who was building desks for students.” Due to time and money constraints, however, Porter didn’t think it was possible.
“I kind of forgot about the idea,” says Porter, “but it just hit me one Sunday during an online church service how many desks there were that people wanted to give away or sell. The very next day, I started responding to different people who were giving away or selling desks; the next thing I knew, I had six or eight desks by early December.”
Porter used platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Market to source his desks, which he then fixed up himself. “The majority of them just needed to be cleaned and sterilized, while for others I have had to remove paint, paint the top, do some sanding, or tighten the legs.” Porter then brings the refurbished desks to the school, where they are placed on a stage normally used for plays and speeches. “It looks like a furniture store now,” quips Porter.
The idea quickly took off. “In total, we have collected 58 desks and have given about 45 of them to students,” says Porter, who either loads the desks into parents’ cars or delivers them himself to the students’ homes. “Some had been sharing the kitchen table with several siblings,” says Porter. “Some were using a couch, their bed, or even just the arm of a couch. A couple of kids even told me they have back problems now [from using their computers] on their beds, so I knew it was something I had to do.”
While the demand for desks has slowed a bit at Lincoln High, that doesn’t mean Porter has. “We have about 12 desks left on the stage, and I know that there are kids in Yonkers who could use these,” shares Porter, who plans to offer free desks to students from other local schools. “There are still months of school left when kids will need desks,” he adds. “Having a desk is important, and it affects kids. You can’t study and can’t learn when you are sitting on a bed or couch and feel tired immediately. You are not in a good position. So, I really feel that it’s been a huge success, and I am just so happy that the kids have responded to it.”