Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Students of Victory Collegiate Academy buzzed about this little idea: Let’s build a tiny house – one of those 400-, 500- or 600-square-foot mini homes that are all the rage among millennials who don’t want to spend 30 years paying off the mortgage on a much larger 3,000-square-foot home.
But then they started to think: “How would a tiny house impact the community?” said Victory Collegiate seventh-grader Jayden Schuermann.
That’s when they changed course.
They noticed students at their school, which is in the heart of Maryvale, were coming to class with soiled T-shirts. When they started asking around and surveying their classmates, they discovered something shocking: 30% of the students at their school do not have access to running water.
So they nixed the tiny house idea for something different: The first free, mobile laundry service in Maryvale, called The Washing Wonder Community Laundry Service – a washer and dryer snugly nestled in a trailer and ready to bring the laundromat to those who need it.
The project won Grand Canyon University’s K12 Educational Development Challenge Grant at the Canyon Showcase on Tuesday evening at the Student Union’s North Dining Hall.
The showcase culminated a year of professional development and mentoring for teachers across Arizona who took what they learned at GCU back to their classrooms. The result: a slew of inquiry-based projects, in which students identified a problem then spent months developing a solution for that problem, just like The Washing Wonder Community Laundry Service did for Victory Collegiate and its neighborhood of Maryvale.
The student projects filtered to the showcase through three of the department’s education and STEM initiatives -- the STEM Impact Grant, STEM Ready 1 and Canyon Inquiry. They were displayed in a gallery-walk format so attendees could interact with the students, said Marni Landry, K12 STEM Outreach Manager.
The format “gives students the opportunity to demonstrate in a public display of learning, a critical step in STEM and Inquiry education,” Landry said.
Seventy-six students from eight schools represented 20 projects at the Canyon Showcase, where attendees could vote, via QR code, for People’s Choice Awards for one elementary, one middle and one high school project. Judges also chose award winners from one elementary, one middle and one high school for the Judges Choice Award picks. As a plus, all the middle school participants received surprise scholarships to participate in GCU’s STEM summer camps in June.
“GCU is pleased to help teachers improve your pedagogy,” said K12 Educational Development Senior Vice President Dr. Tacy Ashby at the outset of the event.
It was through the STEM Impact Grant that schools were put on a path to fund those projects through GCU. The University awarded eight schools $1,000 in seed money for their projects. Then, in November, six of those schools competed in the Canyon Challenge. Of those competing, two schools -- Victory Collegiate Academy and Edison School of Innovation -- received $8,000 more each in grants.
On Tuesday, the two schools gave their final presentations, with Victory Collegiate taking home the final $2,000 in grant money for a total of $11,000 in awards for their Washing Wonder project.
Schuerman inspired a few laughs from the audience during his team's presentation about The Washing Wonder: “This is the future president of the United States, Victoria Roman,” he said of one teammate before introducing Joshua Abeyta, “a sixth-grader who has dedicated his life to finding the meaning of love” and then himself, “future president of Grand Canyon University.”
Then they launched into visuals to show the audience the problem they wanted to tackle, displaying soiled shirts the team said were taken off the backs of students at their school.
“Imagine walking in here tonight wearing dirty clothes, your colleagues whispering at your appearance," said the team, which then asked the audience to put themselves in some of their classmates' shoes. “Are they able to concentrate?” or “Would they feel confident?”
The team showed video of the community partners who helped them in their project, teaching them about electricity and how to pipe a water line, install fluorescent lighting and connect outlets. They also detailed their budget, as well as a budget plan for the next three years.
With the $2,000 win, the students -- they represent a team of about 12 -- said they might install a shower, a feature in their original plan that their budget would not allow.
“It’s a pretty amazing concept,” Victory Collegiate vice principal and math teacher Mark Abeyta said of The Washing Wonder project. “We have seen kids come to school. Their clothes are just soiled.” He is hoping that through this project, “We can build their confidence.”
He said the school’s team worked incredibly hard throughout the year on the project and everyone was excited to be chosen as one of the two finalists.
Canyon Challenge Grant runner-up, Glendale’s Edison School of Innovations’ GEMS, was founded by a group of girls who realized the field of robotics lacked diversity and wanted to change that. So they formed the organization, which stands for Girls Empowering, Mentoring and Supporting.
GEMS is made up of current and former robotics students at various schools who share an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in the West Valley.
“We want to get girls more involved in STEM,” said GEMS member Kaitlyn Strickland, a freshman at Avondale’s Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center – Estrella Mountain, before the group’s Showcase presentation.
The newly formed GEMS, who displayed IQ and Evo bots at the Showcase, have organized a day camp from July 15-19, hoping to find fellow students who might be interested in joining the club when it launches next school year. Their plan is to offer coding, engineering, general science, aerospace, and design and modeling.
Kamille Flores Ochoa, a fifth grader at Mountain View Elementary School in Waddell, Ariz., spoke about her school’s project – to build an ecologically friendly greenhouse and improve the school’s lunches. The prototype her team displayed at the Showcase was made out of water bottles.
“We surveyed our students and most of our students suggested a garden,” Flores Ochoa said.
While the school currently grows plants in three 3-foot by 2-foot raised beds, they’re not big enough for the vision of the project team.
“We felt that in a big 20-foot by 15-foot garden, we would be able to get the whole class inside,” said Mountain View third-grade teacher Stacey Plonski.
The team is waiting for permission from the district to start on the project and then will start fund-raising.
Several students from Longfellow Elementary displayed their interactive cards, which students programmed, from Mother’s Day cards to birthday cards and sixth-grader Isai Ambrosio’s interactive graduation card.
“I learned how to make the characters move,” Ambrosio said. He created the card using a programming language called Scratch.
And students from Imagine Avondale identified a problem at their school that they wanted to fix – erosion along one of the fence lines that caused a gap under the fencing.
Their solution was two-fold: plant a tree and build a brick wall to try and stave off the erosion.
“A tree will suck up the water, and a wall will stop kids from going out and other things from coming in,” said Imagine Avondale student Aiden Chatter.
Mark Abeyta said projects like the ones at the Canyon Showcase are so important in building a problem-solving, community-driven next generation.
“It’s important for kids to start thinking about helping others and to see how they can be a blessing to their community,” he said.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.