Beyond the Curriculum: Cozad's Maker Fair bonds students with staff and community

Beyond the Curriculum: Cozad's Maker Fair bonds students with staff and community

By Tyler Dahlgren

NCSA Communications Specialist

There’s a person behind the teacher, and there’s a person behind the student.

Beyond the syllabus, books, numbers and homework assignments you’ll find hobbies, interests and skills that don’t always have a place, or a time, in the classroom.

For two days, students at Cozad High School venture past curriculum into a world of fantasy baseball drafts, robotics, cooking and side-splitting karaoke, discovering newfound common ground with their teachers and community.

Since 2014, the Maker Fair has helped build relationships between students, community volunteers and the CHS staff while providing skill-building activities and plenty of laughs.

“Students and staff are able to view one another in a different light, as they are teaching and learning about a topic that both view as interesting,” Logan Morris, an English teacher and Maker Fair planner, said. “This has led to further conversations between teachers and students about their shared interest.”

For two days, community members and teachers run classes such as sewing, volleyball or self-defense, passing on skills, and, in most cases, interest to Cozad students. In its first year, 20 community members volunteered and 36 courses were offered. In the Maker’s fourth go-around, 45 community members were involved while the number of available courses reached 50. The cooking classes in particular are so popular that the school had to borrow kitchen space from a nearby church.

“Our community willingly gives up their time to come and teach a course for half a day or all day, and we love having them,” chemistry and science teacher Amanda Ogden said. “The students are able to see that our staff and members of the community are just like them and that we enjoy doing various things as well.”

The savory smells of homemade Mexican food favorites seep from one room while laughs from an enthusiastic 10-point pitch classroom pour out of another and echo down the hallway. Students are engaged and instructors are happy to be sharing some of their previously-hidden avocations.

“Most of our students love Maker Fair and look forward to the two days where they aren’t stressed about tests or homework,” Ogden said.

While the cooking classes fill fast, the most jazzed up room belonged to Chad Johnson, an education specialist with Nebraska Public Power Department (NPPD), participating in its second straight Maker Fair. Johnson puts on the “Robot Challenge”, which he says “introduces students to the engineering design process, basic electricity concepts, and interfacing between the digital and physical worlds.”

“Kids are fascinated by robots, and it’s always a topic that gets students excited, especially when they get the opportunity to get their hands on all the parts,” Johnson said. “NPPD has been involved with different robotics programs throughout the state as a way to encourage kids to go into technical fields and this challenge is designed to teach kids that figuring it out is an employable skill.”

Johnson said his first priority as an education specialist is to provide opportunities for students to learn how to be safe with electricity, but there’s also a focused effort being made to build relationships with programs like the Maker Fair throughout the state.

Cozad benefits by having NPPD at the event, and NPPD is grateful for the chance to share its message about safety, careers and energy literacy, Johnson said. He added that NPPD encourages schools and teachers to utilize local businesses and resources to provide students with real-world connections.

“One of our favorite mottos is that in today’s technical world, teachers are no longer just the givers of knowledge, but the givers of opportunity,” Johnson said. “Cozad is a prime example of a school that works hard to give students opportunities like the Maker Fair.”

Ogden grew up in the community, so the Cozad’s willingness to get involved with the Maker Fair hasn’t surprise her. Support comes from inside of the building, too. Several administrative position-holders have even taught a class at the fair.

“Our administration has been super supportive,” Ogden said. “Mr. (Dale) Henderson, the middle elementary principle, and Mr. (Brian) Regelin, the middle school principal, have loaned us staff members to teach sessions as well, which is always a hit.”

Art teacher Trey Botts spends his time at the middle school instructing 6th-8th graders. He’s in his second year at Cozad, and his sixth as a teacher. Botts coaches a sport during each season, and has seen coach and player relationships built beyond the classroom. He sees the same potential with the Maker Fair.

“I always get a kick out of interacting with the students in a different setting,” Botts said. “As a coach, the kids get to know what we are interested in outside of a classroom setting and vice versa. I believe the Maker Fair gives us the same opportunities. A barrier is removed and they start to realize we are working together.”

When the barrier Botts talks about is out of the equation, a unique opportunity to expand dialogue presents itself.

“It is a huge relationship builder,” Botts, who taught a screen printing class at this year’s fair, said.

In 2014, uncertainty about how the event would turn out lingered. Morris said students were tentative of what to expect. Student excitement grew a little bit each year, with the upperclassmen’s testament of fun driving interest from the underclassmen.

The school culture and climate during the event, according to Morris, are extremely positive. Students have a little more pep in their step walking into school during the Maker Fair.

“The students show a level of excitement not typically exhibited during the school day,” Morris said. “Students in cupcake decorating, for example, were proud of their work, taking pictures and showing other students and teachers. Chess has been a popular class we have offered where students we didn’t anticipate enjoying the class love it and review it highly every year.”

When lunchtime arrives, students eat and pile into the auditorium for a karaoke session, where the first song comes from math teacher (and fantasy baseball draft commissioner) Ron Bubak channeling his inner “Kool & The Gang”.

“Celebrate good times, come on,” he sings.

Cozad’s student body joins in, collectively clapping to the beat.

They’re doing just that.