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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, June 5, 2008

Della Rocco, Ferrara, and Struck named finalists
BKW students excel at solving real-life problems

BERNE — Problems. 

They’re everywhere.  Some people are motivated by them and work to solve them, some run from them, and some accept them as unchanging and use them as fuel for their arguments. 

This year, real-life problems spurred middle-school students at Berne-Knox-Westerlo to action. 

Coyotes and dogs were killing Ciarra Ferrara’s chickens.  Tara Rodford had troubles with her TV.  She was losing the remote control and its buttons didn’t work.  Ryan Diamond and his brother played basketball and they wanted a way to keep score. 

Earlier this year, Karen Barber, a sixth-grade science teacher at BKW, asked her students what problems they have seen and what they could do about them.  Some students recalled recurring frustrations.  And some saw family members struggle. 

The students then came up with solutions and sent their ideas to this year’s invention convention.  Some of them stood out. 

Barber, who has entered her students’ concepts and designs since the convention kicked off a decade ago, recalled with enthusiasm and awe how some everyday household items that are now on the market came from young minds. 

Each year, conventions are held throughout the state, and kindergarten through eighth-grade students from 13 counties enter their models in the Capital District Invention Convention.  Students’ entries are then judged by a panel of patent attorneys and engineers.

The event has grown from humble beginnings.  In 1998, the convention’s first year, 167 students from the Capital District participated.

In this year’s contest, over a thousand students entered their ideas and seven BKW middle-schoolers were chosen as semifinalists.  Throughout May, their inventions were displayed at the Schenectady Museum & Suites-Bueche Planetarium. 

Last Thursday, the field of 100 semifinalists was narrowed to 25 finalists — the last round in the contest — and three BKW students — Taylor Della Rocco, Ciarra Ferrara, and Daniel Struck — were chosen.   They have been invited to the State Recognition Program, which will be held in Buffalo on June 14. 

Solving problems

In creating their inventions, the seven middle-school students considered many problems, most of them found at or near their homes. 

Daniel Struck created Solar Shanty.  When he went ice fishing, he couldn’t see whether a flag had gone up outside the fish house, showing that he had a fish on his line, and, when he opened the door, heat escaped.  He created an ice shanty with a see-through top, which, if built to scale, he said, would probably be made of plexiglass. 

Megan Longendyke tackled outdoor grilling by designing BBQ Dispenser, a cap that is placed on a barbecue-sauce bottle with bristles for spreading sauce on meat. 

Ryan Diamond used to play basketball with his brother all the time but didn’t have a way to keep score.  He then thought of Score Feelers, a basketball hoop that is able to sense when a ball passes through it and tacks points onto the scoreboard. 

Maclin Norray devised The Snow Stopper.  He saw that, in the winter, after people open car doors, snow on the roof falls onto the seats inside and passengers get wet.  He thought of placing flexible guards over the tops of the doors to prevent unwanted snow from getting inside.

Tara Rodford created Dream TV.  The buttons of her TV didn’t work and she often lost the remote.  She came up with the concept of a voice-activated TV.  To control the volume, change channels, and turn the TV on and off, the viewer need only tell the TV what to do. 

“Anything that you can do with a remote, you can do with your voice,” she said. 

Taylor Della Rocco, an eighth-grader, has had success at each of the last three conventions and this year marks his third straight year as a finalist. 

When he was in sixth grade, Della Rocco, after seeing a piano player at his church struggled with turning pages while playing an uptempo song, designed The Ultimate Music Buddy.  Instead of turning pages by hand, his invention allowed a musician to press a button on the floor connected to a programmable computer screen.  It also enlarged the music for those who have trouble seeing. 

Last year, he conceived The Smart Tracker, an arrow with a microchip, which would either fall off inside the deer if the arrow passes clear through it or remain on the arrow when it doesn’t pass entirely through a deer’s body. 

“Then you’d have something to track your deer if you lost it or anything because, usually, if it doesn’t fall dead, then you have to…track it with blood and everything, and that’s not always the easiest thing,” Della Rocco said.  “My dad shot a deer and we couldn’t find the blood trail so I thought of that.”

This year, he tackled another problem with blood.  His uncle had once cut himself and ripped many Band-Aids.  Della Rocco then designed Easy Open Strips, a Band-Aid dispenser with less cumbersome packaging. 

And Ciarra Ferrara, with her invention, Coyote Keep Away, sought a way to keep her chickens from being terrorized by coyotes and dogs.  She made a contraption with a lever that, when stepped on by an approaching dog or coyote, releases citrus, used as a repellent.

— Tyler Schuling

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