Middle School Students Pursue Their Passions

On Monday afternoons after classes are over, the TIDES (Technology Innovation Design-Thinking Entrepreneurship for Society) Garage of the Kovler Family Library comes alive with the sounds of Middle School students pursuing their passions.

For some, this sounds like mud being slapped back and forth until it shapes into a sphere. For others, it’s the slow silence of glycerin being poured into soap molds, the hum of a 3D printer extruding an original design or the clicking of keystrokes as some write their next novel or develop marketing materials—all accompanied by the prerequisite chatter concerning the day’s events or bouncing new ideas off one another. Welcome to home base for our Middle School Passion Projects.

Based on the “20% time” concept Google originally made famous, Parker’s Passion Projects provide dedicated time and space for students to devote a portion of their mental and creative energy at school towards something they’re truly intrigued or excited by—often having no connection to their formal studies in the classroom.

The range of Passion Project ideas students brainstormed and explored this year was spectacular! Students spent time flying drones, designing and sewing for pets, making soap and bath scrubs from scratch, designing and printing in 3D and more.

For approximately 10 weeks, students met during lunch once a week to share progress, problems and successes and spent time after school working on their projects. The TIDES Garage (also known as a makerspace) served as the clubhouse, where students tinkered, soldered, got messy and created.

Eighth grade student Jacob Boxerman used this experience to try his hand at making Hikaru Dorodango, a Japanese art form that involves shaping and hardening dirt into a shining ball. Sixth grader Anika Gehani originally spent time designing and producing detailed 3D printed cars. With that done, she focused her remaining time getting a head start on her next novel for National Novel Writing Month in April—with 9,000 words on paper already!

Several other students developed their entrepreneurial spirit and turned their Passion Projects into businesses, orchestrating two sales in the Front Alcove after school. Sixth graders Gabby Druger and Naomi Geller formed a company called Squishie Surprises and sold Oreo-themed squishies (foam toys), donating all proceeds to Bookwallah. Sixth graders Ryan Bottjer and Naomi Gross delved into the world of scented soap-making with their company Soap for Hope, which donates all proceeds to Lurie Children’s Hospital Emergency Fund. Sixth graders Julia Peet and Olivia Manson channeled their energy into creating exfoliating sugar scrubs with their company Scrub Network, donating proceeds to Smile Network, and 7th grader Ava Stauber made and sold customized horse-themed jewelry with her business Charmed Equestrian, with proceeds helping horses through the ASPCA.

There will be another Passion Project sale on Friday, April 6 at 3:10 p.m. in the Front Alcove.

In reflecting upon the success of this year’s Passion Projects to date, lead faculty member and Middle and Upper School Library and Information Services Specialist Annette Lesak shared, “It has gone perfectly. Experiential, hands-on learning, student choice and empowerment, collaboration and a sense of community make this project one truly rooted in progressive education.”
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.