Mother creates 'Focus Desk' to aid with learning

Hosea Sanders Image
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Special classrooms
A local mother wanted to make easier for children like her own who have "learning differences."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's back-to-school time for many youngsters in our area - but some classrooms will look a little different this year.

And it's all because of one local mother who wanted to make learning easier for children like her own. She saw a need and was determined to do something about it.

This very active group is Mr. Ratliff's second grade class at Hyde Park Day School, where they specialize in teaching children with learning difficulties - or as they prefer - "learning differences," meaning they have some trouble learning reading, writing and math in a regular classroom, in a regular manner.

"One of the common misconceptions is that children or people with learning differences may not be quite as intelligent as the typical adult or other children. But we find that's not the case. Our students are very bright. They just need a few extra tweaks to their program in order to help them have the success that we expect," Ratliff said.

Notice the desks these children are using - it's one of the "tweaks" he's talking about. That type desk is the result of a Winnetka mother's frustration at the way her dyslexic son was being restrained years ago at another school.

"And I kept saying, 'Why are you doing that?' They said, 'He needs to sit still,'" said Nancy Dellamore. "And I said, 'He needs to move. Why can't you let him move?' He wasn't disruptive or anything."

That led Dellamore to believe there must be a better way. So after years of research and input from educators, engineers and students like these, she came up with the Focus Desk. It's adjustable in all kinds of ways, depending upon a youngsters' needs.

It's a big hit with this class.

"You can stand and you can like sit on your knees and when it's down, you can only like sit," said Maxwell Few, a student.

The folks at Hyde Park Day School actually helped to come up with the various configurations that engineers would need to build into the desks. Now it's all they use here.

"I think it works for kids with learning disabilities, it's great for kinds with attentional disorders; but I would have to anticipate it would work well for any child to kind of gain control of their organization, of their learning environment," said Casey Crnich, executive director at Hyde Park Day School.

And now Dellamore, who first had the idea, is reaching out to other parents who want to make things better for their children with challenges.

"You can feel their pain. 'My child can't function in a classroom. They are having a tough time. They are being pulled out for this, for that. You know they can't read,'" Dellamore said. "You grasp at anything to help them."

Now other schools across the country are considering the Focus Desk for their students. Those desks are manufactured right here in the Chicagoland area. For more information, visit:

The Focus Desk:

Hyde Park Day School: