By Aila Boyd
The Botetourt County School Board learned about a community partnership between Engineering II students at the Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) and Kids Square in Roanoke during its monthly meeting on February 13.
During the Focus on Instruction part of the meeting, Kurtis Kennedy, an engineering teacher at the school, spoke about the partnership and the benefits that his students gained as the result of it.
While talking with Felicia Branham, the executive director of Kids Square, over the summer of 2019, Kennedy discovered that she had a desire to make a life-sized Operation game. He promptly responded that his students at BTEC could easily make something like that. “During the meeting, she said that she had all of these ideas, but that nobody makes projects like this because they’re one-offs,” he said.
From there, Kennedy visited Kids Square to see the facility for himself. He also discussed setting up a field trip to the facility for his students.
Kids Square offers interactive exploration opportunities for children and families in a playful environment, allowing children to learn through hands on experience and pretend play.
Branham discussed her ideas with the students, who then grouped themselves up in order to execute the projects.
Some of the projects that the students made include: a six-foot blacklight wall, a music box, an interactive light table, a life-sized Operation game, and a car wash.
It was noted that in addition to classroom time, students worked on their projects in the evenings, on weekends, and throughout the winter break.
“They really put a lot of time and effort into this,” Shaun Sparks, principal of BTEC, said. “This project embodies everything that we want our students to be involved in.”
Kennedy stressed that he didn’t give the students a specific curriculum. “Each group had to go on their own journey and decide what they wanted to build. Everything had to be safe, durable, and reliable,” he said.
The students who create the life-sized Operation game brought the actual board game into school one day and took it apart in order to understand how it worked. From there, they went to work constructing their own version of the game.
Also, the experience taught students how to troubleshoot because some of their original ideas didn’t quite pan out how they had planned, Kennedy explained.
“Every single group went on their own journey. They learned completely different things, but they knew the projects they were building weren’t going to get thrown away because they weren’t for a science fair. They knew that the things were going to be real and were going to there for a while.”
William Johnson, a student at BTEC, worked on the interactive light table. He spoke about his experience participating in the partnership at the School Board meeting. He spoke about learning computer-aided design, which he’s now certified in. “I’m using it for personal projects and projects for over clubs that I’m a part of. It’s been a huge resource that I learned through this program,” he said. “Since there’s no real set in stone curriculum that we have to follow, Mr. Kennedy has come up with all of these fun and amazing projects that we do.”
Johnson added that Kennedy stressed that he, along with the rest of the class, find their own solutions to problems that they faced while working on their projects. “Personally, that has really helped me be a self-starter. I really thank him for that,” he said.
Kennedy explained that he hopes the partnership will endure, especially considering that Kids Square is in constant need of new pieces because people go there expecting to see something new.