How Friday’s ‘Innovation Hour’ at a Fairfax Co. Elementary School Sparked Student Initiative

A weekly “Innovation Hour” at Wakefield Forest Elementary in Fairfax County has helped the school increase attendance.

Two students from Wakefield Forest Elementary in Fairfax County, Virginia during Innovation Hour.

OMCP/Scott Gelman

A group of Wakefield Forest Elementary students during Innovation Hour on Friday, April 29, 2022.

OMCP/Scott Gelman

Third-grade student Tanner Williams during Innovation Hour on April 29, 2022.

OMCP/Scott Gelman

Students work during Innovation Hour at Wakefield Forest Elementary on April 29, 2022.

OMCP/Scott Gelman

Year 3 student Annette Wolf during Innovation Hour at Wakefield Forest Primary School on April 29, 2022.

OMCP/Scott Gelman

On a Friday afternoon at the start of the school year, in Fairfax County, Virginia, third-grade student Tanner Williams developed a survey to hand out in class.

He kept it simple, with questions about the pets and colors his peers at Wakefield Forest Primary School enjoyed. For the school’s weekly innovation hour, Williams just wanted to get to know her classmates.

But as the school year progressed, Williams’ weekly chores became more advanced. One week, he brainstormed plans for a fundraiser to keep trash out of the ocean. He raised more than $700, he said.

Wakefield Forest students look forward to Innovation Hour every Friday afternoon. Launched when Sharyn Prindle became principal in 2016, the final hour of Friday class in Kindergarten to Grade 4 is dedicated to allowing students to work on a project of their choice. There are few guidelines and the project may be different each week.

The initiative, Prindle said, has helped improve student attendance. The students look forward to this hour of freedom. In fact, plans are now being made around her.

“I live in an amazing community that does a lot of fun things and travels,” Prindle said. “I was really looking to bring the kids in throughout the week, until Friday.”

The excitement is evident on Friday morning when the students arrive, Prindle said. Many get out of their parents’ car in the morning with boxes and other recyclable materials to use for the day’s project.

But not all projects result in a physical demonstration of creativity.

Several students are working on creating a Rainbow Club, an organization to support the school’s LGBTQ+ community. Prindle advised these students to create a proposal.

Because fiber art seemed popular among some students, the school invited a fiber artist to discuss their process. Another group focused on fashion design.

In Christine Marucchi’s CE1 class, the students’ weekly interests vary considerably. Annette Wolf used a recent Friday to create a bingo-like game using state capitals. She also created a model of the water cycle using a shoebox.

Another student used styrofoam balls to make a model of the solar system. One writes a play about a girl and her father who fight over a mermaid.

“If you look around in the classroom, you see they are having a conversation, right?” says Marucchi. “Now is not the time for me to say, ‘Oh, don’t talk to each other, you have to concentrate on your work.’ They’re focused on what they’re doing, but they have genuine conversations and they’re having fun.

On a recent Friday, students in Marucchi’s class were tasked with creating something to symbolize ancient Greece’s greatest contributions to today’s society. Students are rarely given a topic during the hour, but the Greece assignment has replaced a test.

In a corner of the classroom, Williams worked with cardboard to create a stand containing the Olympic rings. He also plans to submit a presentation explaining their importance.

At another group of offices, Wolf, who called architecture the most notable contribution of the Greeks, used a cereal box and white paint to create a model of the Parthenon.

“The Parthenon is a very famous sculpture in Greek architecture,” Wolf said. “So it will feel familiar to people and they will understand how it’s done.”

While critics may suggest the tradition does away with an hour of formal class, “in many ways, it’s going to help them hone and adapt other skills they don’t have the opportunity to do during the week. school,” Prindle said.

Williams, for the most part, varies her weekly plans. But for three hours of innovation, he only created paper airplanes. Then he realized that it spoils the fun.

“I liked doing it,” Williams said. “But then I decided that I shouldn’t do the same thing every time.”

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