Contributed by Executive Director, MV Ventures, Alex Blumencranz

“How might we …” is a familiar and somewhat daily question at the Mount Vernon School as students prepare to be “college ready, globally competitive and engaged citizen leaders.” Real-world work actually impacting the communities around us engages learners to dive deep and prototype working solutions for authentic users. Student projects have included partnering with Delta Airlines to reimagine the check-in experience at the airport, developing and implementing an evergreen noise barrier at a local Sandy Springs nature preserve, and even designing a pulley system to haul gear up to the top of a play structure.

While some projects are planned, others organically emerge and it’s the designer’s task to notice an opportunity and embrace it as a problem to solve. Occasionally, though, some problems need immediate attention and a lot of creativity in hopes of finding a suitable solution. The global COVID-19 pandemic has been the root cause of many such issues and the Mount Vernon School, like so other schools around the world, were forced to ask the same question. 

“How might we reimagine school where students are encouraged to wonder and wander while still keeping the safety of our students and communities at the center while including protocols around social distancing, PPE, contact tracing and safety protocols?”

When Jim Tiffin, Director of Maker, Design and Engineering (MDE) at The Mount Vernon School was challenged to help answer this question, he and the MDE team jumped in with two feet. The Maker labs house most of the School’s tools for tinkering, hacking and designing. From 3-D printers, LED lights and Zip-Snips to the Shop-Bot and laser cutter, these spaces were the perfect place to design health and safety solutions to bring students and faculty back to school in August.

Using design thinking as a foundation, Tiffin and the team began discovering, designing, defining and ultimately deploying over 350 acrylic table dividers and 850 visual cues for tables and floors to ensure students and faculty could safely return. Many other organizations had the same idea so materials were becoming difficult to source so the team had to become creative. Using large plexiglass and acrylic sheets from a local kitchen tools distributor normally used to make refrigerator gaskets and cutting boards, Tiffin created custom-sized table dividers in all four divisions across two campuses. The team also used one of the School’s logos, the MV “Dot” and printed custom acrylic floor and table visual cues to direct people where to sit and stand  socially distanced. 

After over 800 hours of work over the summer, The Mount Vernon School reunited on August 11, 2020. Using the same tools that the MDE team used over the summer, students will continue to design for good in the Maker labs, creating real-world solutions to real world problems. Follow Mount Vernon at #MVreunites and see what’s happening at the School this year!