Shaftsbury Elementary students stand with their models of spaces where children can learn, study, and create, designed under the impetus of the Southshire
Shaftsbury Elementary students stand with their models of spaces where children can learn, study, and create, designed under the impetus of the Southshire Challenge. (Derek Carson)

SHAFTSBURY -- In January, the Town of Bennington and the Better Bennington Corporation challenged Shaftsbury Elementary fourth graders to design a space, outside the classroom, where students could learn, study, and create. On Wednesday, students presented their final projects.

The challenge, part of the Southshire Challenge, a partnership between the Community College of Vermont, local schools, and local businesses, was called the "Tinker, Hacker Space Challenge." Students in the classrooms of Laura Boudreau and Susan Phelps worked with Michael Harrington, Bennington's economic and community development director, and the BBC's John Shannahan.

The question asked of students, said Boudreau, was "What would a space look like, where students could come together, create, study, and learn?" First, students brainstormed what they would like to see in such a space. While some ideas, such as a water-slide room, a mall, and a Chuck-E-Cheese room, had to be rejected, others, including a Wi-Fi café for students and parents, animal rooms, science and technology rooms, sports rooms, and fashion rooms would make it into the final design.

Along the way, students had meetings with Harrington and Shannahan so they could check in on their projects. Harrington helped them focus their brainstorming, and Shannahan reviewed their individual designs, eventually presenting them with an architectural blueprint of a building that incorporated their designs. According to Phelps, the students worked on the project every Friday afternoon, during "Challenge Afternoon."

"It started as a very big project, where we let them use their imaginations. They have very big imaginations," said Phelps.

The presentation on Wednesday started with a video created by the students, which detailed the process they used to design their space. "We have enjoyed working with the Town of Bennington, and hope we have inspired our community to create this space," said one student at the conclusion. Afterward, students returned to the hallway, where all of their final projects, a 3D model of a room in their space, were set up. Parents walked down the hall asking students about their designs.

"I think they're a lot better than what I expected," said Harrington, examining one student's planetarium design, "I don't know that I could have done this in the fourth grade. They know every detail of every room, and they've written descriptions. They've really come a long way since the early stages when John and I were working with them."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB