Derby Middle School’s Genius Hour Create ‘Cases For A Cure’


Photo: Carl Jordan Castro

(From left to right) Teacher Jennifer Andrews, April Nowinski, Aaliyah Hicks, Jazmine Ordunez, Natalie Perruccio, Alyssa Iofino.

DERBY, Conn.—For an hour a week students at Derby Middle School indulge in personal projects involving fashion design, coding, and analyzing the structural integrity of the Titanic.

English teacher Jennifer Andrews implemented a program called “genius hour,” a program Andrews adopted from Google.

The company allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of the work day working on a pet project of their choice. At Google, the concept birthed Gmail and Google news.

In Andrews’ class, the sixth-grade girls decided to make cell phone cases to sell in the Derby Middle School store, and to donate 50 percent of any profits to the Hewitt Center for Breast Wellness at Griffin Hospital.

The cases were sold for $5 each. The project launched in April.

Derby Middle School student Natalie Perruccio said her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago.

“I remember I went to all her chemotherapies and . . . I wanted to learn more about it and so I started researching it,” Natalie said.

One by one other members of the group named relatives that survived cancer, are living with the disease, or died from it.

So they called their project “Cases for Cures.”

Photo: Carl Jordon Castro

Decorative cell phone cases created by Derby Middle School students.

Decorated with stickers, rhinestones, and the like, creating the cases involved a lot of hard lessons. Certain paints didn’t stick to the cases. Burns from hot glue were common.

The girls ended the school year feeling accomplished. They said they learned more about themselves and each other.

“As a group we learned a lot together,” Natalie said. “So I feel like we’re a little family.”

Genius hour was a great experience for the students, Andrews said.

“(The program) is also a learning experience about life,” the teacher said. “You might want to pursue something and you fall flat on your face, but that’s part of the growing pains to be successful in life. ”

And now the students hope they’ve created a new tradition in a school district with many.

“We were planning on doing this from sixth to eighth grade and when we leave the school we’re probably going to get sixth-graders to carry it on,” said middle school student April Nowinski.