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Poolesville students hope to take home top honors again in engineering competition

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A group of Poolesville High School students hope to take home top honors again this year in a science and engineering competition designed to help people with disabilities.

Two teams from Poolesville are among the five finalists taking part in the AbilityOne Network Design Challenge on Friday in Alexandria.

The competition has students working in their science and engineering classes to design a device that would make it easier for people with disabilities to complete a task or improve productivity at work. The project required students to work with a local nonprofit that employs people with disabilities to determine needs, come up an idea and create a prototype.

Students from Poolesville worked with the Scott Key Center in Frederick to create a cradle that keeps rain barrels from rolling around when employees wash them. They also created a tea-packing device that makes it easier for employees to count and arrange packets into boxes.

Dennis Levin, part of the team that created the tea-packing device, said the process taught him about market research, problem-solving and how to work with a client’s needs.

“We really learned . . . how the power of an idea can change people’s lives and change the way they look at their work,” said Levin, a junior.

Poolesville students submitted a record-breaking 18 projects for the AbilityOne competition. The students not only had to build a device, they also had to submit a research paper and create a video marketing their products. The three other teams are from high schools in Kansas, Minnesota and Connecticut. The teams are presenting their products to judges Friday, and the winners will be announced Friday at 1 p.m.

Poolesville junior Neel Deshmukh said the team is working to improve and build more rain barrel cradles for the workers at the Scott Key Center. He said it has been humbling to work on the project.

“There are less fortunate people out there, and they’re struggling to find work,” Deshmukh said. “We’re happy to make a device to overcome the obstacles they face in the workplace.”

Poolesville is a highly decorated magnet school for some of the brightest students in Montgomery County.

Kevin Lee, the students’ engineering and robotics teacher, said many of the students are used to getting straight A’s, but competing in the AbilityOne Challenge has taught them far more valuable lessons.

“The reality is you’re going to get more A’s, but here you have a chance to do something for someone and see a huge change in someone’s life,” Lee said of what he’s told students. “It’s a message kids took to heart, and they’ve really done a good job.”

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