Updated October 7, 2020 - 11:33 am
On the first day of the 2020-21 school year, Harney Middle School teacher Mark Kromer noticed one of his students was working on the floor of his home — fidgeting, rocking back and forth and clearly uncomfortable in the position.
But when Kromer asked if he had a chair he could sit in instead, the boy told him no: The family had just moved in and had only two mattresses to sit on.
Kromer said he has seen the disparities in home learning environments thrown into sharp relief during the first few weeks of school, with students who have fully outfitted desks and those who have next to nothing. As a result, he’s now fundraising to buy desks and chairs for Harney students who need them through his A Space to Learn initiative.
“Some situations we can’t control,” Kromer said. “There are 11- to 12-year-old boys who are the only parents present throughout the day, responsible for getting their kindergarten-age brothers to class. We can’t do much about that, but we can give them solid surfaces to put their computers on.”
The student working from the floor is not alone, Kromer said. A survey sent in September to all families at Harney — an east Las Vegas school where 100 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch — saw 286 respondents who indicated a need for 408 desks and 415 chairs.
Among them are two of Kromer’s other students who share one room in a mobile home with two siblings, he said. As the four are all middle schoolers, they work at the same time: The older two on the top bunks, while the younger two share the floor, each trying to keep their distance in order to focus on their work.
Another student worked from the floor while his toddler-age sibling sat on his back; he now hunches over on the top bunk to avoid getting hit by the ceiling fan, Kromer said.
Kromer said technology needs have understandably been the chief focus as the Clark County School District begins its school year virtually. But some of his students don’t have so much as a kitchen table and chair to work from, he said, making virtual learning particularly difficult. Even with reopening schools now on the table, Kromer said, it’s likely that students will return only part time, leaving them in need of an at-home learning space for at least three school days a week.
Through GoFundMe, he’s raising money for compact, lightweight desks and chairs that would fit in the tight spaces in apartments and mobile homes.
“The harsh truth — the truth that I never could have fully imagined six weeks ago — is that no student should ever have to learn from the floor,” Kromer said.