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By John Published: September 3, 2010
Dee Martindale (left) and Diana Wolterman both of the Ohio Stem Learning Network tour the art room overlooking downtown Akron after a dedication ceremony for the National Inventors Hall of Fame School Thursday. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

When Kylie Sees and Sean Rich started the new school year on Wednesday at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, the seventh-graders got a challenging assignment.

Kylie had to rebuild and program the computer commands for the Lego-wheeled robot they made last year to show off Thursday at the official dedication of their new $14.5 million school on South Broadway in downtown Akron.

''We rebuilt it yesterday and we reprogrammed it this morning,'' Kylie said, putting the wheeled vehicle through its paces before the dedication ceremony in the school's great hall.

''We built it in about a half an hour and then programmed it in about 20 minutes.''

It was easier the second time around, just as many things will be this year for Akron's youngest middle school as it begins its second year in its permanent home.

The school's students and staff proved themselves in their first year last year in temporary quarters on West Market Street. The school earned an excellent rating on the state's report card without a fancy new building or even labs.

On Thursday, they walked into the great hall where school officials, educators, politicians, business and community leaders and

honored inventors cheered them with pompoms in the school's orange and white colors.

One of their own, 7th-grader Ryan Prickler, topped a slate of 16 speakers, describing how he first heard about the possibility for such a school when he was in first grade.

''I started working even harder than I already was to keep up my grades,'' Ryan said.

And then with a comic's timing, he deadpanned: ''I didn't know I would be selected by lottery.''

The quip earned big laughs. The National Inventors Hall of Fame School selects kids based on a geographically based lottery rather than by merit because of the founding belief that any child can succeed in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines if they're given a chance.

''I would have kept up my grades anyway,'' Ryan added.

He said the first year passed by in a blur ''until we got here, where we are, in a new building with a great group of kids ready to learn, great possibilities, great teachers, all because of you people.''

''You people'' encompasses a founding partnership among Akron Public Schools, the city of Akron, the University of Akron and Invent Now (formerly known as the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation), joined later by the business people and community leaders from Greater Akron Chamber and Akron Tomorrow.

The planning for the school began in earnest in 2004, the year after city residents passed a dedicated income tax to provide the local share of a nearly $800 million school construction project co-funded with the state.

The former National Inventors Hall of Fame building with its familiar giant sail was renovated with an addition added to its north side.

Teachers had a big say in designing the classroom space and large, plaza-like spaces outside the classrooms to make collaboration among teachers and students easier.

Soundproof moveable walls can join classrooms or divide them; desks are oddly shaped so that they form different arrangements for students to work together and labs also have tables and chairs that can be rearranged, depending on the lesson.

''It allows for the teachers who are designing the curriculum and the instruction to make the decision about what space is most appropriate,'' said Maryann Wolowiec, project manager for the new school.

Last year, fifth-grade students took on the challenge of addressing one of the building's downsides: The noise from the great hall carries to the second floor library that overlooks the hall.

Inventor James West, who was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999 for his co-invention of the microphone used in most cell phones, tape recorders and camcorders, worked with the fifth-graders last year on figuring out possible solutions and spoke at the dedication ceremony.

West initiated the ''visiting inductee program,'' one of two ways that Invent Now will contribute to the new school. The other is through the Invent Now Akron Museum and Store, adjacent to the school.

Last year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame moved out of Akron to Stark County, angering Mayor Don Plusquellic because of all the effort and money spent to lure the organization to Akron.

Council President Marco Sommerville praised the mayor on Thursday during the ceremony for having the vision to give the building a new purpose as a math and science school.

''Mr. Mayor, I want you to know that what we are doing here today is much greater than having the Inventors Hall of Fame in the city,'' Sommerville said.

Plusquellic in his remarks reiterated that the original vision of Inventure Place, as the museum came to be known, was to inspire all the children in the region to experience hands-on science, even if just for a day, and to find inspiration to become inventors and scientists themselves.

''Yes, this is a good use of this building, but unless every child has an opportunity to come here on a field trip, to come here on a Saturday with their family, to bring their younger brother and sister . . . this will not be a dream fulfilled, at least not for me,'' Plusquellic said.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or Read the education blog at
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