The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Junior High students learn service work through Home Depot desk-building project

The Home Depot held an event at Northwest Junior High in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and the example he led by serving his community.
Jayce Bertrand
A volunteer works on a desk at Northwest Junior High in Coralville, Iowa on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024

The loud drone of drills and power tools rang through the hallways of Northwest Junior High in Coralville on Feb. 16.

The sounds of sawing and hammering were soon overpowered by giggles and chatter of students who sported safety glasses, supervised and assisted by Home Depot workers in bright orange shirts.

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The students were tasked with building 25 desks to be donated to Iowa City students in need — a unique act of public service that the school dedicated to honor and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during Black History Month.

Northwest Associate Principal Kimberly Fitten said she loved that students were able to actualize MLK’s life of service and activism through a non-traditional outlet, as opposed to the usual “sit and get” lessons students received in the past.

“It really goes outside of the box and allows kids to say, ‘I can serve my community or be in service to others or people I’ve never met through this opportunity,’” Fitten said.

The Home Depot Foundation provided construction instructors at Northwest as a part of its mission to serve the local community.

Eighth-grader Kyren Battle sat at a workbench, meticulously sanding down one of four legs that would eventually become a completed desk, comparing his work and skills to that of Bob the Builder.

Battle encapsulated the mood of the room perfectly.

“Everybody’s happy,” he said. “Everybody’s smiling while we’re doing this, and it’s a new experience for everybody.”

Although any preteen is probably more than delighted to handle sharp objects and power tools, the desk-building event held a deeper meaning than the everyday wood shop class.

Due to inclement weather in mid-January, the MLK Day event on Jan. 29 was rescheduled for last week; however, the message remained the same. Home Depot store manager Jeramie Stroud — from the Cedar Rapids location — still stressed the importance of teaching students about MLK’s life and the lasting mark he left.

“For me, it’s a little bit of a drive to get here, but we do about four projects a year at each of our stores, and it was well worth the drive to come down and help out and to spend some time with the students,” Stroud said.

The sentiment of giving back to kids in their school or the surrounding area resonated with eighth-grader Noah Overholt.

“It feels amazing,” Overholt said. “I feel like a good person doing this.”

Battle shared Overholt’s joy in giving back to their community and helping those in need.

“I like helping people because I’m a nice person,” Battle said. “If I see someone fall, I’m going to help them up. Why not just help someone have a desk that’s going to be used?”

The students’ feelings were evident in their smiles and rowdiness when they added another desk to the pile of finished projects stacked in the back of the classroom. Stroud said his favorite part of the day was watching students’ faces light up with excitement when they saw what all their hard work went into.

“Just when we finish a desk, they have that little surprise moment because right until the end, they don’t realize what they’re building,” Stroud said. “When they can see it finished, now they feel like they could go do a similar project, so they’ve got some experience there.”

Fitten said students who were usually less interested in class were requesting more classes like this one and responding to the lesson.

“These are typically the students who don’t participate, and they’re engaged,” Fitten said. “I think it just gave them a whole other sense of what your skill set can look like in your community and how people benefit from that.”

Northwest Industrial Tech teacher Jim Adams said the this event was so much bigger than just a shop class lesson.

“I think that it’s important in life for students to grow up learning that you can get as much enjoyment by building something and giving it to somebody that needs it than to just do things for themselves,” Adams said.

With the 2023-24 school year being Adams’ first at Northwest, Fitten said the event was an exciting opportunity for him as well as the students to showcase all the different learning opportunities and pathways students have access to.

More interest in skills trades jobs postgrad has recently been shown by Iowa high schoolers. The National Association of Home Builders announced in 2022 that more than 5,000 students from over 140 Iowa high schools attended a trades showcase with interest in joining the industry.

“How exciting is it for him to offer opportunities for us to think of other projects to do to continue to be in service, but also to generate interest from students?” Fitten asked. “Who knows what this has unlocked.”

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About the Contributors
Grace Olson
Grace Olson, News Reporter
Grace Olson is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. She's a news reporter for The DI, reporting primarily on local government. She is from Denver, Colorado and worked on the pirnt publication from her high school prior to her work in college.
Jayce Bertrand
Jayce Bertrand, DITV Reporter
Jayce is a reporter for DITV, as well as the Production Director for KRUI. I'm in the Class of 2026, majoring in English and Creative Writing and minoring in News and Media Literacy. he enjoys reporting on news, culture, and art.