Kim Derrick has worked at Boyd-Buchanan School for almost 20 years as the aftercare director, watching after children from Pre-K to sixth grade.
In January, she suffered a stroke, and though she's recovered significantly, she still has limited mobility in her left arm. That's what inspired Jason Owens, a longtime friend of Derrick's, to recruit his high school engineering students to design various products to help Derrick with everyday tasks.
With Derrick's permission, Owens pitched the idea to his class.
"The overwhelming response was that's what they wanted to do," he said. "They want to do things, they want to be involved, they want to make a difference."
The first step in the project involved students going about their day only using their dominant arm. That gave them firsthand experience in what it's like to be limited to one arm.
After that, students pinpointed three main areas in which Derrick might experience the most setbacks: getting ready to go out, meal preparation and running errands. Derrick was asked to verify those tasks were actually problems for her.
Students then brainstormed ideas to solve those problems, conducted research on how to build the products, developed prototypes and tested them, drafted a final design and then produced the final product.
The project resulted in several products to help Derrick with a variety of tasks from washing dishes to folding laundry and cutting vegetables and fruits, which were presented to Derrick on Tuesday. They included:
» Slanted dish washing rack: Made of perforated plastic, it's designed to hold a plate or bowl while the person scrubs it with one hand. Rubber feet are on the bottom to keep it from moving around or scratching the sink.
» Turn signal adapter: A plastic attachment that fits around the turn signal column and long plastic extension that reaches to the right side of the steering wheel. That helps Derrick avoid having to reach all the way to the left side of the steering wheel to use the signal.
» Sock folder: Includes one plastic flap attached to another to help it stand up while socks are fitted over the top of each other and then rolled up.
» Bread holder: Keeps slice of bread in place while Derrick spreads butter or jam or any other topping. It's made of a square plastic base with sides and suction cups on the bottom to keep it in place.
» Drive-thru tray: Can be placed on the car window to help drive-thru experiences run more smoothly, since Derrick can't always reach all the way to the window with her right arm. The tray was still being 3-D printed Tuesday afternoon, but it's designed to hold up to 15 pounds.
» Jar opener: Made of a plastic base with two sides in a triangular shape and lined with rubber strips to hold jars in place while the top is unscrewed.
» Button and zipper pull: A wooden stick with a hook and loop on one end. The loop threads buttons through their holes and the hook helps pull the zipper up.
» "Chop Slot" cutting board: Keeps food in place while Derrick chops. It's made of a regular cutting board with plastic sides that have slits in different places to allow a knife to pass through. It also features spikes on one end to keep fruits or vegetables in place.
Many students have known Derrick since they were in Pre-K, Owens said. So they were excited to be able to help her and get experience in their field of interest, as several plan to go into engineering upon graduation.
Landon Baker, a 16-year-old 10th-grader, said one of the biggest things he learned, professionally, was how to create a proper presentation. And knowing the products will actually be put to use also stood out to him.
"It's great to help [Derrick], because you genuinely get to see the difference in someone's life," he said.
Emily McCutcheon, also a 16-year-old 10th-grader, echoed Baker's thoughts on presentation.
"If I don't present it well, the buyers may not want to buy it, even though it's exactly what they're looking for," she said.
McCutcheon said she's always loved building things.
"I know joining the engineering class was the right thing because I got to help Ms. Kim," she said. "I've known her probably since I was in kindergarten."
"I am overjoyed," Derrick said after seeing the students' final products. "It is just awesome to think these children that I've been with for this many years came up with all these things for me."
Derrick, 49, was in the hospital for three months following her stroke, and she was in outpatient physical therapy until last month. She doesn't know if she'll regain movement in her arm, but she said it is possible.
"I still go on," she said. "I know I don't have full movement, but I still try to just do everything. I'm always a go-getter. I try to do as much as I can."
Owens said he hopes to continue helping real people through the class.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.