This past week, students visited more than 20 Richmond-area nonprofits that serve the homeless, foster children, individuals with special needs, youths experiencing mental illness, veterans of war, as well as caring for refugees, the environment, city parks and more. Based on students’ honest conversations with organization leaders and their clients, ideas to help began to form.
Using the design thinking process of Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, Evolution and Communication, students ultimately created a prototype of a product or idea that might solve the issue at hand. Each group described their idea to a panel of representatives from the nonprofit organizations and afterward answered pointed questions. Presentations took place in the Reeves Center, Reed-Gumenick Library and the Sharp Academic Commons.
Brock Smullen and his teammates had met with individuals with disabilities, who told them about the problem of people using handicapped parking spots. Their idea, HandiPark, includes a HandiPass (similar to an E-Zpass) that scans a reader in a handicapped space and recognizes a legitimate user. If a non-user parks in the space, the scanner beeps for five to 10 minutes.
“We had a lot of ideas at first,” Brock said. “We categorized them down to one and we feel good about it.”
Emani Henderson’s group worked on a way to keep siblings in foster care from being separated. After some back and forth, they landed on the idea of the Healing Hands House, where family members could remain together. Members of her team described their week of Envision Richmond the same way: “It was touching.”
“It sounds like a cliche, but it was nice to hear people’s stories,” Emani said. “Envision Richmond is a way to connect with the community.”
Laurie Shadowen, Collegiate Humanities teacher and Envision Richmond Coordinator, expressed her delight that in five years, the Envision Richmond Program has grown from a small pilot program of 20 students in 8th Grade to a robust program of 137 students participating this year.
“Collegiate is committed to equipping our Middle School students with simple tools like design thinking so that they feel more confident tackling any problem, especially those within their community,” she said. “Envision Richmond plants the seeds for change in our students and provides an excellent opportunity for them to practice responsible citizenship and give back to their community. I love that all the 8th Graders now get to practice being change makers!"
To continue the work they’ve begun and to make Envision Richmond a yearlong experience, students will work on a service learning project in the spring with the same nonprofit they connected with this fall.