Timber Creek teachers build a better community

Tech instructors construct desks for 20 students in district

Special to The Sun: Timber Creek Regional High School Technology and Design teachers Mike Smith, left, and Steve Arena, right, constructed and donated 20 desks to students in the community earlier this school year.

During the countless virtual lessons that design and technology teachers  Mike Smith and Steve Arena have led since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve noticed something they are sure fellow teachers at Timber Creek Regional High School have also taken note of.

As the men led lessons and discussed project concepts, they noticed some students were joining classes from various places around their homes rather than at proper desks.

“As teachers, we were seeing kids on Zoom attending class while laying on the floor, laying on their bed, laying on their couch,” said Smith, who is in his 11th year at Timber Creek. “They were oftentimes sitting in these open areas without a real work space, and some were even working in the same room with multiple siblings, where none of them had a desk to use. So we knew this was a need for them.”

Smith was watching the news one day in October when he saw a story about making desks for those in need. He immediately realized that Timber Creek itself could use its shop to build desks for district students.

After getting approvals from school administrators and securing the materials needed to build the desks, Smith and Arena worked together for approximately a month between agreeing on a design and physically building 20 units.

The original plan for the project was for the two teachers to oversee the construction of the desks in their classrooms with students participating,   as what typically happens in a class of Smith’s to design and build furniture that can be sold back to the community. But because of 100-percent remote learning during the first half of the 2020-2021 school year, the technology fund that made the annual class project possible was instead used to make the desks.

According to Smith, vice principals at Timber Creek worked to identify students who could benefit from an at-home desk and confirm interest from  parents and/or guardians. After construction, the 20 desks went to students on an approved list just before holiday break.

Across the Black Horse Pike Regional School District, Smith said there are about 10 technology educators who have worked together to identify ways  they can continue lessons in an all-virtual format, since their classes often involve physically building and designing something.  

“We’ve worked to bounce ideas off each other throughout the year on how we can best continue our classrooms in an all-virtual learning spectrum,”  Smith explained. “There’s no two ways about it: Everything we did was hands on. There was a little bit of classroom learning, but then we would work in our tech shop using 3D printers, vinyl cutters, laser engravers, saws and hammers … We were always working with our hands.

“Yes, it’s been difficult for sure,” he added, “but we’ve, I think, done a good job of being able to adjust the virtual format to help our students get a good education.”

Looking back at several months of work, with extensive shopping, planning and designing and back orders on needed materials, Smith said he’s happy the district was supportive of the idea, and that he and Arena were able to help students during a difficult time.

“I’m proud to have worked with the school and been able to give back to the community,” he noted. “It was a lot of work from start to finish for sure, but it was entirely worth it to see the look on the faces of those students and their parents when we were able to drop off a simple desk that can still make a massive impact.”