Derrick Smith and Nathan Bryd

Liberty Bell 7th-graders Derrick Smith, left, and Nathan Byrd used Genius Hour to research how they could make football helmets stronger to try and stop the amount of concussions.

Liberty Bell students making the most of Genius Hour

Groups of Liberty Bell students are fulfilling the namesake of their favorite class, Genius Hour, by presenting some findings from their projects during the final weeks before Christmas Break.

Over 50 projects were presented during one of Liberty Bell’s newest classes, which puts a spin on research in the library. While some libraries may be a bit subdued, Liberty Bell students are rushing from station to station in order to utilize different research methods.

“It’s really just a research project that they are doing, but they seem to have so much fun they don’t really realize it’s a research project,” Liberty Bell media specialist Dr. Johnnie Sue Hawley said. “So it’s still research in the library, it’s just a different style.”

Genius hour allows students the opportunity to pick their own research project, which they then must pitch to Hawley “Shark Tank-style” before getting the final okay. Then the students start to research the project before they make a presentation about their findings at the end of the semester.

Topics this year ranged from bovine medicine to bath bombs and many places in-between. But one common theme is that students never cease to amaze Hawley.

“They always knock my socks off, they just always impress me,” said Hawley through a smile.

Liberty Bell 7th-graders Derrick Smith and Nathan Byrd used their time to research a trending topic nationwide as they looked at ways to ease concussions in football. The duo decided to make a “super helmet” to lower the rate of concussions.

“The helmet didn’t just pop up in our heads first, it came with a lot of research,” Smith said. “We got to choose our topic and we figured that since we both had experience with football, this would be a great topic and a pretty good project. Our first thought was how can we make the helmet better?”

In order to do that, Smith and Byrd came up with the D and N collision helmet. They said they made the helmet stronger than a normal helmet because of the extra syntactic foam and gel packs they added.

While they haven’t performed rigorous scientific studies to qualify their statements, Byrd said that having the opportunity to study something he thinks is interesting is one of his favorite parts of the class.

“In most classes you can only do the project that they want you to do,” Byrd said. “With Genius Hour, you can work on any project that you think might be interesting.”

Hawley said that she researched different ways to implement a Genius Hour and that a common rule of thumb – even at Google – is to make sure it encompasses 20 percent of your time.

“They call it 20 percent time at Google and they let their employees work 20 percent of their time on whatever they want to work on as long as it will benefit the company,” Hawley said.

Liberty Bell students enrolled in the class are able to spend 45 minutes a day working on their project during the semester they are enrolled. Hawley said that she has noticed her students respect their freedom and stay on task without much suggestion, because they are researching things that interest them.

“I would strongly recommend this class to anybody, because anyone can fit in in this class,” Smith said. “This is one of my favorite classes by far.”

To keep up with Genius Hour projects throughout the year, use the #GeniusHour_JCS on Twitter.

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Science Hill students serve as Santa’s helpers, wrapping presents for those in need

The smiles that will come on Christmas morning will be a bit bigger thanks to the smiles that filled Tracy Hoilman’s room at Science Hill last week as the final bows went on 508 wrapped presents.

An annual occurrence for the past decade, Hoilman and Science Hill students that make up the Random Acts of Kindness Club met as Elves Inc. to wrap the hundreds of presents that are donated to sit under the tree for underprivileged children in our community.

“Science Hill never ceases to amaze me with its generosity at Christmas time,” said Hoilman, a drama teacher at the high school. “For 11 years, we have provided Christmas for needy children in our community. It is simply amazing to see the compassion from our faculty, staff, and student body for those who are less fortunate.

“This year, incredibly, our 25+ students who received community service credit wrapped 508 packages in two days. This was a combined total of over 72 hours of community service. I truly think this is evidence of the spirit of Christmas.”

The aura of the holiday season is exactly what brought Haley Elrod out.

“I wanted to be a part of putting a smile on a kid’s face on Christmas morning,” Elrod said. “Christmas is one of the happiest times of the year, and I wanted to make sure the kids got to experience that.”

Different clubs, classes, organizations, sports teams, faculty, staff and administration were able to choose a child from a list to provide presents. The groups were then provided with the child’s wish list and they were able to shop accordingly.

Some of the students reminisced on some of their favorite Christmas memories as they wrapped presents and Kelsea Bailey said memories like those are the reason that she decided to take some time to wrap gifts.

“I always loved opening gifts as a child, and I wanted to help create that feeling for children who may not have it without help,” Bailey said.

Some of the students, like Science Hill senior Rylie Payne, returned after having a great experience last year.

“Last year was the first time I came to wrap presents with this club. I decided to come back this year because it was a great experience,” Payne said. “Wrapping these presents, you get to see what a community looks like and the joy that is spread while doing it.”

Avery Nevitt said sitting around with friends and wrapping presents for others was exactly what she needed to get in the Christmas spirit.

“I came here because this is all about Christmas. Most people know Christmas as a season of getting gifts and money and making cookies and such,” Nevitt said. “What most people fail to acknowledge is that this is also the season for giving. Wrapping gifts is a small amount of the time and effort but knowing happy children with smiles across their faces when opening (the packages) Christmas morning is what makes it worth being here.”


Science Hill senior Caroline Powell helps points to a piece of metal as welding teacher Brent Sluder looks on.

Science Hill students putting welding skills to use this holiday season

Creating holiday keepsakes are just one of the many opportunities that Science Hill welding students have when they enter Brent Sluder’s welding shop.

The eager smiles of students molding metal are in all corners of the shop as they work on their projects ranging from a simple introductory weld to customizing a bumper for an FJ Cruiser. But as Sluder surveys the shop, he notes the most important thing happening is the exposure students are having to a possible career.

“When kids come in here, it is normally their first experience with welding,” Sluder said. “Our goal is to introduce them to a skill that they could possibly make into a career and let them get their feet wet.”

Science Hill senior Caroline Powell is not planning to make a career out of welding, she is going the college route, but that didn’t stop her from testing the waters to see what welding had to offer.

“To dip our toes into this, in high school, lets us kind of see what we are in for and if this is something that we want to go into after high school,” said Powell, who is creating a custom bumper for her FJ. “This class has taught me that you don’t necessarily have to go to a 4-year college. There are so many different options. This class definitely prepares you to go into welding as a career choice and it opens up a lot of opportunities for a lot of students.”

The American Welding Society predicts that there will be a shortage of 291,000 skilled welders by the year 2020. Sluder admitted that welding may not be the most glamourous line of work, but it can provide students with the financial stability they seek.

“It can be dirty work,” Sluder said through a smile, “but a lot of our graduates are able to enter the workforce directly from high school or after they spend some time in a postsecondary program.”

Currently the class is spending their free time fulfilling orders for their holiday fundraiser. Sluder and students are able to use their machinery to create custom orders for the public with the proceeds going back into the classroom to try to make the program as self-sustaining as possible.

Science Hill junior Jeb Jones is also planning to take the college route, but he was eager to learn a trait that he might be able to use down the road.

“I wanted to take the class to have a hands-on experience and learn something outside of a notebook and something that you can apply to real life,” Jones said. “That is something that you don’t get to do much of in high school when you’re taking classes like math and science.”

Jones is supplementing his schedule of AP classes with college, career and technical education classes so that he can get a full-spectrum of what the workforce has to offer.

“You don’t know what you are going to do as a job and having opportunities like welding, and the other classes on the CTE campus, help you figure out what your interests are,” Jones said.

Powell said that she was glad that she took a semester of welding before she graduated from Science Hill and encouraged other young ladies to do the same.

“I think it’s something that girls should get into, because it’s not just something that guys can do,” Powell said. “Girls can definitely do just as much, but I just think that a lot of girls these days don’t think that shop class is from them. But me being in it, it’s super cool to learn about.”

The class will be taking orders until Wednesday, December 13. For more information, contact Brent Sluder at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call the main office at 423-232-2200 ext. 2420.