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Autum Woodson has always had trouble staying focused in the plastic seat of a one-piece classroom desk.
Woodson, a rising 10th-grader at Monticello High School, said the desks are uncomfortable, and she constantly finds herself fidgeting and getting distracted.
This summer, through a grant-funded entrepreneurship program at Albemarle High School, Woodson got the opportunity to focus her energy into a self-directed project and came up with what she hopes will be a working solution.
She calls it the couch desk, a padded plywood platform that eventually will feature a fold-down desk surface.
“This isn’t something for lazy people,” she said. “The goal is for this to go into schools so that kids like me who have ADHD, they’re not sitting down and listening to a teacher the whole time. They are comfortable, they don’t want to get up and run around.”
Woodson and 15 other students presented the results of their participation in the program in a mock pitch session Thursday at AHS. The program was funded by a state grant for planning for extended or year-round school.
The projects include furniture — like Woodson’s desk or classmate Daisy Zamudio’s standing desk for elementary students — conveyor belts and baseball bats.
Memphis Seay, a rising sophomore at Monticello High, put his love of baseball and skill with a wood lathe into a bat he intends to re-fit with a golf club grip.
“A golf grip has a lot of grip on it when you are swinging a golf club, so I was thinking, ‘What if you could put a golf grip on a baseball bat?’ That is what I am going to attempt to do today,” he said.
The project required more than just skill with a chisel. To hone his idea, Seay had to learn the ins and outs of Major League Baseball’s rules for bat dimensions and grip restrictions.
The students are those who needed to make up credits from the school year and who struggle to engage with a traditional classroom, said teacher Eric Bredder.
“This is an entrepreneurship class, and it is centered around their ideas mixed with a content area, a math or science,” Bredder said. “It just allows them a space to make something, do something different than just sit down in a class and do a worksheet.”
It’s a project-based learning approach that Bredder, who during the school year teaches engineering at Monticello High, and AHS engineering teacher Todd Menadier are planning to meld into the regular school year.
“It has been really great because these kids are dedicated students who are coming here over the summertime. It also gives me an opportunity to test some of the things out that we are hoping to bring into the school for next year,” Menadier said.
The class methods are already in full-swing at Albemarle High in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy, Menadier said, but in that capacity, it usually does not reach at-risk or disengaged students.
“This kind of learning automatically empowers you,” Menadier said. “So the students who are more disenfranchised are the ones who can really profit from it.”
Menadier started his career in New Jersey and Philadelphia, teaching inner-city and at-risk students technical skills in a strictly project-based environment.
With the time available during an entire school year, Menadier said, he wants students to take their ideas from design through prototyping and into saleable shape. The long-term goal, he said, would be to put profits from student projects toward class material costs.
“Going forward, you have your initial idea, and you think that you know exactly what you are going to do with it and how it can be done,” he said. “As you start learning more and more about it, and more and more about the market you plan on bringing it to, you have opportunities to improve on it, to find new ways to make it look better or function better.”