West Jeff students churn out ideas in Innovation Center

Juniors Katie White and Sydney Lohr and sophomore Mihaly Galloway participate in a challenge at the Innovation Center in the West Jefferson Middle/High School library.

(Posted May 15, 2019)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

You think you know libraries? Visit the West Jefferson Middle/High School library and you might just change your mind.

Sure, there are books—thousands of them, plus reference materials and computers, but open the door to a room near the front desk and you’ll find a different resource, what media center specialist Kristen Kearns calls the Innovation Center.

Inside is a 3D printer, things and places where students can take their creativity to a new level. The center opened at the beginning of the school year.

Kearns recently updated the school board on center activities during a May 13 board meeting. While the number of students accessing the center on a daily basis fluctuates depending on a weekly theme, it is a place that challenges their imagination.

“Activities are set up in the Innovation Center,” said Kearns as she showed pictures of petri dishes hatching bacteria from around the building that was part of a recent science theme.

“They grew some pretty gross stuff. We also do some technology with the 3D printer where kids can print out projects.”

The need to repair a broken table found the printer put into use at the end of the day after the problem was identified and a solution devised by senior Nathaniel Dersom.

Earlier this year, Dersom used the same technology to create 3D-printed adaptors, converting classroom microscopes into digital devices via a camera and computer.

Engineering, math and art are also included in the rotation of Innovation Center themes, and a $30,000 grant from Battelle will be used to purchase virtual reality and augmented reality headsets for the center.

“We also do a lot with discarded books,” Kearns said. “We made art with pages torn from them. We’re really trying to get students involved.

“We also now have teachers intrigued and they want to partner on activities.”

Projects created in the center this year include tin foil penny boats, blackout poetry, egg launchers and code bracelets. Community service is also an aspect of challenges devised for students who work on ideas during their free periods or study hall.

“We’re making sensory bottles for classrooms at Norwood,” Kearns told board members. “And we recently dropped off 75 cat and dog toys at the Madison County Humane Society (using old socks and shirts).”

Kearns plans to have students create cards for people in facilities such as nursing homes.

“We have monthly challenges for high school students and make-and-take activities for middle-schoolers,” Kearns continued. “We also have contests, and ran an upcycle book contest where the only rule was there were no rules.”

The media center specialist said she is always looking for “stuff of all kinds” to keep the Innovation Center stocked with materials such as broken electronics, old Legos, coin batteries, duct tape and masking tape.

“You name it, we can pretty much use it,” Kearns said.

For information on donating items to the Innovation Center, contact Kearns at (614) 869-7654 or kkearns@westjeff.org.

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