“I thought that if she had a quiet place to study, it’d be better.”
Last fall Andrew Williams overheard his wife Sandra Williams, a second grade teacher, as she worked with her student Nataly in class on Zoom.
“Nataly couldn’t pay attention to what Sandra was saying because it was too loud at her home,” Williams recalls. “She was with her siblings and mother at the kitchen table because there was nowhere else to attend class.”
That sparked an idea for Williams, a high school woodworking teacher and Gilroy Teachers Association member. “I thought that if she had a quiet place to study, it’d be better.”
He had recently been in touch with David Gunter, founder of Community Desk Project in New Mexico, who sent him instructions on constructing simple desks. Williams made a wooden desk out of plywood and two-by-fours for Nataly. He knew there were many needy families in his community whose kids could also use desks for schoolwork and a modicum of privacy and quiet during distance learning, so he made more. He initially used his own money, then set up a GoFundMe page where others could donate to help cover his costs.
“This will give [students] a space they can call their own and where they can keep their computer and supplies for school,” he explains on the page.
Sandra, “the artist in the family,” a 33-year educator and member of Hollister Elementary School Teachers Association, paints the desks in bright colors. As of mid-February, Williams has built and given away more than 30 desks — no small feat, considering he is teaching five classes with 32 students in each class.
“This will give [students] a space they can call their own and where they can keep their computer and supplies for school.”
Instructing students in woodworking and welding remotely keeps Williams, now in his fifth year as a teacher, busier than ever. “We conduct a 10-hour safety–in–construction OSHA course, which the district paid for. Each student gets a certificate and lifetime credential. Then we have training in reading blueprints and floor plan layouts. The next section is plumbing, welding, and electrical and residential wiring. We’ll end with education and career planning, résumé writing, and interviewing.”
All the hours on the computer have been challenging for Williams, who has years of experience in construction, plumbing and welding, and whose father and grandfather were carpenters. “My eyes are blurry, my hands and back are hurting, I’m starting to have carpal tunnel,” he says. “I’d rather be working with tools!”
Building desks lets him do exactly that. Local media coverage and social media have helped spread the word, and people have reached out.
A Morgan Hill furniture company that was going out of business donated 60 desks, including standing desks for both teachers and older students. Williams and the mayor of Hollister, Ignacio Velazquez, stored these desks at a town venue normally used for wedding receptions and other gatherings but shuttered by the pandemic. “I put out a notice on Facebook at noon,” says Williams. “By 12:15 people were lining up. By 1:10 all the desks were gone.”
“There is a big need everywhere because of COVID and distance work. And there are no kids’ desks out there to buy right now.”
While he’s now down to his last pieces of wood bought with GoFundMe contributions, Williams intends to continue building desks. “There is a big need everywhere because of COVID and distance work,” he says, adding that because of demand, “there are no kids’ desks out there to buy right now.”
He also knows children and youth in his community — and in many communities — will need their own desks at home even after schools return to in-person instruction, so he’s hoping for more donations to fund more desks.
And he can’t wait to return to school for hands-on work with his students. He laughs as he relates that his department chair is currently making a sign for his classroom: “Williams’ woodshop: Beware of loud outbursts and flying tools.”
Help Andrew Williams Make More Desks
To donate, go to gofundme.com/f/community-student-desk-project.
The Artist in the Family