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Katy Sixth Graders Step Into 'Shark Tank' with Prominent Community Judges


KATY MAGAZINE NEWS l March 31, 2019

By Jennifer Miko

Prominent members of the Katy community stepped up to judge inventions presented by the sixth grade class at West Memorial Junior High.

Students at West Memorial Junior High created projects to be judged by a panel similar to the popular “Shark Tank” television show. Over two days, approximately 300 sixth grade and ESL students showcased their inventions and innovations in the school’s LGI.

Community shows support

The “Shark Tank” panel of judges was made up of business owners, members of the school board and other area professionals. Some of the esteemed judges included Katy City Councilmember, Ward A, Janet Corte, Georgia Strickland, President of the Katy Council of PTAs, James Strickland, Men on Campus Chair for the Katy Council of PTAs, Ashley Vann, Secretary, Katy ISD Board of Trustees, Katy realtor, Patti Lacy, Rebecca Fox, Member, Katy ISD Board of Trustees, and business owners Melinda Strain and Erika Zielinski (Southern Divas) and Jessica and Scott Hearn (Universal Fidelity).

Wright said that one student sent a personal note and event flyer to Katy ISD Superintendent Kenneth Gregorski asking him to be a judge. Gregorski agreed, sat on the panel during the young man’s class period, and later rewarded him with his Katy ISD lapel pin.

“I wanted members of the community to be there so it was as real an experience as possible for them,” said Wright. “The kids saw that these people, who are known throughout the community, took time out of their day to see them, and they felt important.”

Judges' top picks

Throughout the program the teams provided unique inventions and innovations that impressed the judges. Some favorites:

“The Note to Self Case” which features a notepad with pen, attached to a cell phone case.

Judge Amy Lehman called this entry a “Real solution to a real-life problem.”

“InfoSnap” offers an app that can tell users all of the information about an item they capture with their cell phone camera. Wright said the presenters explained that due to privacy laws, the app doesn’t work on humans.

“Book-O-Gram” uses a hologram for story telling from books.

Other well-received projects included a “Handy Dandy Hairbrush,” glasses for the blind and lightweight, soundproof headphones, developed specifically for autistic people to help with their sensory issues.

Teamwork pays off

The school's writing teachers initiated this event as the culmination of their persuasive writing unit. “They had to work with a group to work on a solution to something that’s real world, something that isn’t already made, that they could make,” said Writing teacher Jessica Wright, one of the event’s organizers.

The students prepared for less than two weeks to complete their presentation and plan what their model would look like. To get their idea approved, each group wrote a persuasive speech, detailed what problem their model was fixing, explained how it worked and had to convince the judges why they should invest.

“As a writing team, we hoped that this would be a fun end to our persuasive unit, but it turned out to be so much more,” said ESL teacher, Ryan Wilson.

Each member in the project group was required to participate and answer questions from the judges. “They had to get up and speak about how their idea was going to work,” said Wright. “You can come up with an idea all day, but how can you actually put it into effect?”

Jessica Wright, Kenneth Gregorski, Ryan Wilson and Bryant Austin Brown at West Memorial Junior High's "Shark Tank" event.

Valuable life lessons

Bryant Austin Brown, Wright’s partner teacher, said, “I really do believe that students were really challenged, and worked hard on something that they will not forget. The core lessons learned will follow them into even greater successful futures.”

Wilson added, “The students learned about teamwork, cooperation, respect, professionalism, and most of all, they learned that their ideas are valuable.”

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