Layla Anderson, an eighth grade student at East Middle School, primarily baked chocolate cakes, before learning cake decorating through the Summer Innovation Program. She can now  use fondant to decorate cakes.

Layla Anderson, an eighth grade student at East Middle School, primarily baked chocolate cakes, before learning cake decorating through the Summer Innovation Program. She can now use fondant to decorate cakes.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Students’ passions enter the limelight at Innovation Expo

By: Charity Meier | Farmington Press | Published July 25, 2023

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — The passions and interests of students in the Farmington Public School District are diverse, as was showcased at the third annual Summer Student Innovation Expo at East Middle School June 29.

Through a two-week summer program students in the district’s middle and high schools were able to dive into a “passion project” of their choice and showcase their findings at the expo.

A “passion project” is something that a person is interested in and would like to learn about, something that might not necessarily be offered in a regular school curriculum. This year, approximately 75 students — 55 in middle school and 20 in high school — participated in the program, along with 10 teachers.

“We want to think about learning differently in the district,” said summer school program coordinator Kurtis Lovio. “Learning doesn’t have to look like we decide what the students are going to learn, exactly when, exactly how they are going to do it, take this test and then move on. This is about thinking about learning differently and that we can take whatever students are naturally curious … about, interested in and passionate about, and then through that process of them looking into it creating something, researching, that they can naturally learn all sorts of skills and whole other skills into that kind of stuff. So that’s what it’s kind of about philosophically.”

“We create experiences for them,” said teacher Michelle Laramie.

Student interests this year ranged from various types of art such as cake decorating, 3-D printing, painting, pottery and costume design, to architecture, game coding and shark conservation.

Logan Hayes, 13, an eighth grader, said he chose to make the armor of a Death Trooper from “Star Wars” as he has always been obsessed with “Star Wars.”  He said he plans to go into film and hopes to use the armor he made in a short film.

Dylan Kuna made a backlit, 3-D wooden cutout  image of the ancient Japanese architectural skyline during the day and a modern Japanese architectural skyline at night. He said he not only researched the architecture, but drew the skylines, laser cut them, and assembled them.

“I do art from cultures all around the world, but Japan has been my favorite to do, so that’s why I chose it for this project,” he said. “I really like the uniqueness of the architecture and how the temples are not really seen much in the rest of the world. It’s very much just beautiful.”

Kuna, 13, of East Middle School, also likes to do stickers, bookmarks and vector art design. He said he plans on opening an art studio and selling his work at craft shows. The piece he did for the expo was his first 3-D piece. He said he did it in a very condensed amount of time, and it would normally have taken him about four weeks to complete.

Kuna said that through this project he learned how unique the temples of Japan are and that they all have their own story behind them.

“I think his project is absolutely wonderful. He spent so much time with the detail involved with the actuality of what it is and knows the history. Basically he really studies the detail involved in putting these together,” said Randall, Kuna’s father, an artist and welder. “He has taken things to a different level. He’s gone in his own direction, and it’s been nothing but impressive.”

Baja Brannon, 14, has a passion for sharks and desires to go into shark conservation. She said that sharks get a horrible reputation from films such as the 1975 film “Jaws,” but in actuality, humans kill more sharks than sharks kill people, and the species is running the risk of extinction. Brannon said she first fell in love with the species when she saw the odd shape of a hammerhead shark while on vacation in Florida.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, that head looks super weird. That’s what sharks look like? I really want to get into this,’” said Brannon. She said she enjoys reading about and studying sharks and hopes to go into marine biology. She has looked into an internship in the Bahamas, as well as joining several shark conservation groups, such as Shark Angels and Shark Allies.

“I definitely want to help protect the species,” she said. “When I start school next year I will be a freshman at Farmington High. I hope to create the SCS, the Shark Conservation Society. Even though we are so north of the mainland, I still feel it’s good for people up north who don’t really get sharks. Even though we’re kind of landlocked, we can help protect the animals that are so vulnerable.”

Ohm Mehta, 12, and his friend Keval Shah, 12, created a game to train others in the Roblox game “Bed Wars.” Mehta and Shah were very excited to talk about their game, but Mehta’s mom, Vijal, thinks they are too engulfed in it. She said that although she is impressed with her son’s ability to make a game, she hopes he will create something that is “useful” and not just play games.

“I don’t know what is useful in the game, but if they learn something useful, and can do something useful, that is more important,” she said.

“It isn’t just about this program. It’s about  sparking some of those changes in learning throughout the system as well,” said Lovio. “It’s an innovation space not just for the students, but for the teachers and then that gets incorporated.”

As a result of the Summer Student Innovation program, many teachers now work passion projects into their regular curriculum, according to Laramie.  She said she blocks out time each week for students to focus in on their passion projects. Twenty percent of  the learning time in a day is devoted to passion projects in Laramie’s classroom. She said she has also written several grants to get funding to cover the materials for the students’ projects. She said the idea is growing, and they are working to spread it throughout the district.

“I’m trying to emulate the camp, and kids are really excited about it,” she said. “They really like it. … Kids have an outlet during the school day to explore something they really want to learn about, and it’s on their own terms and they love that. It’s like their favorite time of the week.”