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‘I Tried It Out, and It Works!’ : Education: Newhall students become inventors for the nationwide Invent America program.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thomas Edison never invented the “Crayon Keeper"--he never had to.

But a Newhall schoolgirl, frustrated that her crayons broke apart and left her with useless shards, designed the machine to melt down and recast crayons, a clever way to recycle indigo, salmon and burnt sienna.

Sixth-grader Laura Benesh displayed her prototype of the Crayon Keeper to judges at the Wiley Canyon Elementary School’s Invention Convention in Newhall, assuring them that the newly molded crayons were as good as the originals.

“I tried it out, and it works,” 12-year-old Laura said, pointing to a newly recast purple crayon glued to the display.

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Wiley Canyon Elementary School and Newhall Elementary School were two Newhall School District schools participating Tuesday in Invent America, a nationwide program designed to promote creative thinking and problem-solving techniques in elementary and junior high school students.

The district’s four other schools, and campuses throughout the region and country, are holding design competitions this month.

“These are talents children will need as they become adults. It will serve them well to develop these skills,” said Larry Heath, Wiley Canyon principal.

For two months, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the Gifted and Talented Education program at each school went through lessons in brainstorming, formulating ideas and devising marketing strategies.

Students had to build models of their inventions, give them catchy names and estimate their selling prices. They also had to pitch their wares to judges and fellow students.

A sampling from the brave new inventors:

* The “Baby All” indeed has it all--a combination stroller, car seat and diaper bag designed to save parents the trouble of buying individual baby accessories. Wiley Canyon sixth-grader Danika Sudik, an aspiring actress, said having two younger sisters prompted her to create the device.

* Consider the “Weldon Walk-Up Washer,” a bathroom sink designed by Kelly Weldon. There are no tap handles, just a faucet. But down below are foot pedals to control the flow. Weldon said he designed the sink because “I was trying to think of something that would stop me from spilling water while I was washing my face.”

* The “Electromatic Flagpole,” by Newhall Elementary School fifth-grader Skyler Ramirez, designed to assist flag raisers “with a broken arm or hurt back to still raise the flag.” Since ordinary flagpoles cost about $2,000--Ramirez called flagpole companies for estimates--he guessed that his electric flagpole with pulleys and motor would run a hefty $3,400. His model, with movable parts, was propelled by a modest battery.

The first-place winner at Wiley Canyon Elementary School was sixth-grader Kimberly Bertz, who tried to come up with an invention to help her grandmother walk across the street safely.

Kimberly’s invention, the “Good Samaritan,” is a platform on tracks that would ferry senior citizens across a crosswalk “at a steady rate,” she said. Kimberly theorized that the Good Samaritan could be installed at various street corners and ease traffic congestion, she explained rather seriously, because it would get some people across the street quicker.

The 11-year-old estimated the cost of each vehicle at $550, “because it would be expensive to put in the track.”

Kimberly’s invention, along with the first-place winners in the fourth and fifth grades, qualified for the statewide Invent America contest and could be eligible for the regional and national Invent America contest held in Washington in July.

Some ideas born in the classrooms have become commercially successful, said Nancy Metz, executive director for Invent America headquarters in Virginia. A few years ago, a Colorado sixth-grade boy invented a biodegradable golf tee that can now be found on the shelves at Kmart discount stores--and rotting on golf courses.

It’s unclear, however, if America is ready for Chace Lambert’s “Remote Control Bed Maker.”

As envisioned by the fifth-grader, a strong magnet would be attached to the headboard and a lightweight metal stripped along the top of the flat sheet. With the snap of a switch, the magnets would pull the sheets toward the headboard, creating every little boy’s dream--an instantly made bed.

Lambert’s inspiration for this phenomenal device?

“I just hate to make my bed.”


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