Genius Hour

Highland Middle School seventh-graders (from left) Haley Sands, Kylie Allen, Courtney Chalupa and Shauna Sublette work on toiletry collection buckets as part of their Genius Hour project.

Highland Middle School seventh-graders are working on projects aimed at helping people in their community.

The projects are part of Genius Hour activities the students have been taking part in during the school year.

“All year long on Fridays, the seventh-graders have been spending time in my language arts and reading classes doing things for Genius Hour projects,” Sue Norris, language arts and reading teacher at Highland Middle School, said.

Genius Hour originated with Google, where the company encouraged its employees spend 20% of their time working on something that they were interested in.

“That’s what the kids did for the first three quarters,” Norris said. “They did research on anything from becoming a dental hygienist to how planes fly and a variety of projects they were interested in.”

For the fourth quarter, Norris decided to have her students work on empathy projects, focusing on charitable projects.

“The kids have really jumped in and been enthusiastic about it,” Norris said. “We’ve had speakers come in from the Riverside and Ainsworth food pantries. There’s people even in our school who are hungry and have needs. The kids are being empathetic to that and trying to help out.”

One group of boys decided to take their love of fishing and do some good with it.

“We are going out and catching fish and filleting them ourselves to donate to homeless shelters in Iowa City,” Aaron Schaedler said.

Jack Peiffer added, “We’re making a recipe book on the computer that we’ll print off and give to people so they can cook the fish.”

Another group of students came up with the theme of “April Showers” and are collecting various hygiene products to donate.

“We’re making buckets so people can donate Kleenex, shampoo, conditioner, paper towels and other toiletries,” Kylie Allen said. “We’re going to email people so we can put them around town and at the elementary school.”

One group of girls is making tie-blankets for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City.

“We’re tying blankets for the DVIP,” Payton Brun said. “We’ll take them up there to give the blankets to them. Hopefully, we’ll get 50 done.”

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James Jennings, News Editor at The News, can be reached at

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