Poolesville students head to engineering competition -- Gazette.Net


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Poolesville High School is hoping for another win at a national competition for devices that help people with disabilities work.

Last year, students at the school submitted 18 entries to the AbilityOne Design Challenge, and won first place with a cone device that helps workers stuff copies of The Gazette in plastic sleeves.

This year, Poolesville High student Rachel Chang said they’re building on a concept that won a Poolesville team second place in 2013.

With the help of developmentally disabled workers at the Scott Key Center in Frederick, Chang and three other students built a sealing device that peels and places a clear label on top of a tea bag box. The previous year’s invention helped workers get the correct number of tea bags in each box.

The AbilityOne challenge, organized by the nonprofit Institute for Economic Empowerment, requires students to build a functioning prototype of their device. High school teams must research, design and submit a discussion paper and video presentation featuring their device.

Chang and her team are working on making multiple identical prototypes to show the AbilityOne contest judges during the competition Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C.

“My peers and I, we worked every day for this device,” she said. “We worked during school and we worked after school.”

Her team visited the Scott Key Center multiple times to talk with workers with disabilities about what they needed most.

“We feel like we really made some new friends,” she said.

Chang’s team is one of three from Poolesville High selected as finalists in the competition; all together, there are only five finalists. The Poolesville students’ teacher, Kevin Lee, has helped them enter the contest the past three years.

“We’re just so excited,” he said. “It’s a great experience I wish more kids could be involved in.”

The other Poolesville teams’ entries are a die cast guide to help visually impaired workers manufacture buffer pads; and the Nexus, to help workers produce O-rings more efficiently.

Submissions to the challenge must create greater access to employment for people with disabilities. To ensure that these devices meet their needs, they must be developed in collaboration with a person with a disability.

scarignan@gazette.net