ASHLAND Emily Aliff wasn’t thinking about winning a contest when she sat in a wheelchair at the top of a third-floor stairwell at Ashland Middle School last October.
The eighth-grader was wondering how a genuinely impaired student would get down to the ground floor and then to the exit doors if the school building were on fire.
Emily and a number of other AMS students who were with her that day are still pondering the problem and working on solutions, but today they definitely are thinking about winning a contest.
Ashland Middle School for the third year in a row has been named the state winner of the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, which it won nationally in 2018.
Their winning project, which already has earned the school $15,000 worth of high-tech gear, is devising a system to assist mobility-impaired students down from upper floors during fires and similar emergencies.
It is a contest that, if the project wins a national prize, could bring tens of thousands of dollars worth of additional technology to the school.
And it could potentially save lives, which is what Emily and her eighth-grade classmates were thinking about the day Student Technology Leadership Program coordinator John Leistner led them to the third floor to get a real-life look at an obstacle some of their classmates face.
“Once we saw it from a student perspective, we wanted to find a solution because we could see how scary it would be in that situation,” she said.
The school has elevators, but they are switched off if a fire is reported, so current policy calls for mobility-impaired students to shelter in place until firefighters can get there and help them.
That is not good enough, STLP students said, and immediately started brainstorming and researching ways to swiftly assist their classmates down.
When contest time came, they made the project, which they have dubbed “No Child Left Behind,” their entry.
The contest, sponsored by the Korean electronics corporation, promotes solution of real-world problems using STEM skills — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The project includes creation of an app to identify and track mobility-impaired students, including those who are temporarily impaired because of injuries, so faculty can help them down and verify they are out of the building.
“Teachers can check the app and know where the students are, so when firefighters arrive it’s not a guessing game where students are in the building,” eighth-grader Nathan Woolery said.
The students also want to design and create a prototype for a means to extract students who cannot walk out on their own.
What that will be remains undecided. Brainstorming sessions have yielded some preliminary ideas, including pulley systems, sled attachments for wheelchair wheels, rappelling systems and giant balls similar to those in gerbil cages. “Nothing is too extreme for us to consider,” Leistner said.
“It needs to be affordable and not take up a lot of space,” said eighth-grader Samuel Tibbitts.
The students have arranged meetings with a panel of local experts, including police, fire and disability officials, who will discuss with them their ideas and offer their own suggestions.
The next step in the competition is creating a three-minute video Samsung will use in choosing 20 national finalists. If AMS makes the cut, selected members of the team will pitch their project to a panel of judges in April; 15 schools will receive $50,000 worth of technology and five will be chosen as national winners and will receive $100,000 worth for their schools.
National finalist schools have the potential to receive even more technology via social media voting that starts in March.
The contest “is an educational tool in the opportunities it presents to students beyond the prize package,” Leistner said. “They get to do things that are not covered sitting in a classroom. It expands their learning to real-world situations.”
AMS in 2018 won $170,000 in prizes for a project to develop a device to safely pick up discarded hypodermic needles and syringes.
Since then the school has launched an elective Solve for Tomorrow class that concentrates on solving problems with technology. Most of the students in the class are members of STLP.
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