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Ada Harris students advance to national invention competition

Above: Kane Hanson, inventor of the S-Vest, will compete in the National Invention Convention after winning a Merit Award and Industry Focus Award in the Agriculture, Pets and Animal Care at the California Invention Convention.  Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — Every year, Ada Harris Elementary sixth-grade students amaze the Cardiff community with their ingenuity and creativity at the school’s annual toy fair.

This year, however, a group of fifth-graders are a year ahead of schedule. 

Kane Hanson, Lyla Hokanson, Lexi Jantz, Alexandra Collins and Makenna Howard, a quintet of aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors, advanced to a national invention competition after wowing judges at local and state competitions over the past six weeks. 

Kane and the team of Lyla and Lexi will be attending the STEMIE (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math linked to Invention and Entrepreneurship) Coalition’s fourth annual K-12 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo May 29 to May 31 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.

“Can you imagine what they are going to do next year?” Ada Harris principal Janelle Scheftner said last week. “I already warned the sixth-grade team (of teachers) that this next group is going to amaze them.”

Teachers at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea school earlier this year attended a special training seminar offered by The San Diego County Office of Education specifically for the program.

They launched a six-week invention and entrepreneurship project for the school’s fifth-grade class, with the students creating inventions at the end of the project. Ten of those student projects were selected to attend the state competition and compete against 170 students from 23 different schools from across California. 

At the state competition, 80 judges chose 32 inventors invited to the national expo in Michigan.

Ada Harris School 5th Grade Inventors of “The Third Ear,” Lyla Hokanson and Lexi Jantz, were inspired by personal encounter with a deaf child. Their invention was chosen by a panel of judges to move onto the National Invention Convention at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan. Courtesy photo

Kane, working on his own, created the “S-Vest,” a post-operative vest for dogs, an alternative to the so-called “cone of shame” often used to protect dogs from biting or licking wounds. 

The inspiration for his invention? Mojo, his pet bull terrier that the family rescued from near Death Valley, who developed skin cancer and was licking and chewing at his wounds.

“The cone works, but it doesn’t let them sleep, and they can’t eat or drink with the cone on,” Kane said. “I was just thinking about a way that would help Mojo stop licking while allowing him to be comfortable wearing it for a long time before it had to be washed.”

Kane was candid about what he thought his chances were when his teacher, Kris Ensberg, introduced the competition to his class. 

“I said, ‘OK, all I want is a good grade and just be done with the project,’” Kane said. “Then when it got past local and went to state, I was like ‘OK, this is a little more than I asked for but sure, I’ll do it.’ Now that I’m here at nationals, I am still wondering, how did this thing get to nationals? Even my parents are wondering it.”

Kane said he believes it was his presentation that won over judges at the local level. And once he moved on to state, he modified his prototype to make it look better.”

“I think also a lot of people can relate to the invention,” he said. 

Lyla and Lexi partnered together on “The Third Ear,” a smart digital watch designed to display American Sign Language to help people communicate with deaf children.  

Lyla said the inspiration for their project came from an experience at Cardiff Seaside Market, when they encountered a deaf child who struggled to communicate with her mother.

“She was crying and screaming, and I was overwhelmed so I stepped away,” she said. “So when we found out about the invention convention, we wanted to help deaf people.”

Originally, the girls had the idea of using a pair of glasses to display the words, but after peer review of their prototype, they decided to go in the direction of a bracelet, then a watch.

“The words were too close to the eyes when we tried out the glasses,” Lexi said. 

Lyla and Lexi, like Kane, said they were surprised when they made it to state, and ecstatic when they advanced to the national competition.

“I didn’t really think we were going to make it to state, I don’t really know why, but I had a feeling we weren’t,” Lyla said. “I’m just excited and overwhelmed.”

The students have also been overwhelmed by the support of the community, who has helped them raise money to cover the expense of the upcoming trip to Michigan.

The local Elks Lodge donated $1,250 of their Bingo earnings to each child, and families and fellow classmates poured out hundreds of dollars at a couple of fundraising events.

Lyla and Lexi sold “smencils” — pencils with various fragrances — for $2 a pencil, and earned $800 in a week. They also raised $500 from a car wash and bake sale. 

“It’s not really surprising, Cardiff is such a great community,” said Sue Yant, Lyla and Lexi’s teacher.

Yant said that the accomplishments of the children is a reflection on the entire fifth-grade group, which she said exceeded even the teachers’ expectations. 

“Our entire fifth grade went far beyond what we thought,” she said. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but the final inventions and more importantly the process that the kids went through was really exciting and surprising all in the same breath.

“The whole school is super proud of the performance of these kids,” Yant said. “To have two inventions going to nationals is really exciting.”

Scheftner, however, wasn’t surprised.

“Our kids are imaginative, creative and are also really confident and passionate learners that have a lot of exposure and support from their teachers, and the community has always been behind them,” she said. “I was not surprised when we sent 10 inventions to the state level, but I am certainly happy and impressed with the results.”