Fugett eighth graders compete to advance to ‘Shark Tank’

The eighth graders at Fugett Middle School were eager to pull any judges their way to take a look at all the hard work put into their ideas. All around the cafeteria were posterboards and excited students, but it wasn’t for a typical science fair. Instead, these computer science students had teamed up into groups to create, promote and “sell” something as part of the business they created.

“We sell it and teach it as them just coming together as a group to generate a concept, idea or project,” said Tracy Clark, a co-founder of the event and computer science teacher at Fugett. “It can be a remix of something you have already seen, but you think you can make it better, or it can be an original idea.”

On Thursday afternoon, the student teams displayed their finished projects, which varied from tutoring, an app for finding available parking spots, makeup and a date-rape drug detector in the form of a bracelet. Judges walked among the groups with a sheet to score the groups on their websites, videos and logos and scratching.

“Each individual student in the team of three is responsible for that task, whether it’s the website, scratch programming or video production,” Clark said. “From there, they do a project management kind of thing.”

But that’s not all that the students did. Some groups went above and beyond, having sweatshirts made, having lipsticks to show off and even bracelets. “Some are doing extras, like building an app, T-shirts and logos,” said Bobby Swier, co-founder and another computer science teacher at Fugett. “It’s as much as a real-life business company as you can get in eighth grade. Anyone can go and make a website without actually adding to it. Some people have different features, where there are links to their Facebook and Twitter, and they have an account where you can buy specific items on there.”

Funded by a grant from the West Chester Area Education Foundation, the top two or three groups from the day will move on to the Shark Tank and go against two or three teams who advance from the fourth marking period, which will go through the same process.

Thursday’s event was more of a preliminary, as Clark called it.

The Shark Tank is based off of the reality television show on ABC and, just like the show, the groups will face a panel of judges – the sharks – who will grill the students on their business.

“The kids really get involved and take it another level,” Swier said. “It’s nice when you have people from the business world actually give feedback to the students and some of them are projects where you look at them and they could actually be sold and we could buy it today. They’re that good. It’s really impressive for eighth graders.”

Just like the three girls who came up with the date-rape detecting pill, who were eager to share this potentially life-saving idea.

One of the girls admitted the idea stemmed from a relative of hers who went through the experience of a date-rape drug.

These girls invented a fashionable bracelet with a dangle charm. Pretty normal looking to anyone. Except the dangle charm holds a pill in it that can be put into a drink and test to see if it has been contaminated with a drug. The pill will fizzle if it detects something in the drink and if it’s fine, it will just quickly evaporate.

“The projects that move forward are those that are real,” Clark said. “Last year, we had a website where I thought I was actually designing my own cell phone case. I get to the checkout and I couldn’t (buy it) and I worked backwards and saw it was one of our projects. It’s that real, authentic, genuine kind of whatever-it-is and that’s what pushes them forward.”

The students only have from the beginning of the marking period to start coming up with their ideas and come out with the completed concept, which has only been since the end of January.

“Some kids crunch it out at the last minute, but it is overwhelming to see eighth graders come up with the designs and the concepts that they do,” Swier said.

For the Shark Tank, which will happen later in the school year, the finalists will present not only in front of the judges, but the entire eighth grade. The winners will receive a big prize, which is kept under wraps so as to not ruin the surprise. However, it is something they will all enjoy. “These are eighth graders engaging in something they like, but it’s also pretty high-level academically, too,” Clark said.


By Candice Monhollan, cmonhollan@

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