Skip to content

A town square for an unsquare town

redbankgreen

Standing for the vitality of Red Bank, its community, and the fun we have together.

FAIR HAVEN: SCHOOL STARTUP SPINS A PROFIT

fh-gizmo-052617-4-500x375-2193485Hailey Blum shows off a fidget spinner, joined by Milana Strulowitz and Shane Sullivan. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

It’s a rare business that gets to take the summer off. But a startup run by Fair Haven fifth-and sixth-graders has earned some slack time after landing and delivering on a legit $1,000 manufacturing contract this past school year with San Francisco-based Slack.

And it all revolved around a faddish chill-out device called a fidget spinner.

fh-gizmo-052617-1-500x375-9804532The “picture squad” of Anna Gredell, Carolyn Lundy and Joe Ricotta is responsible for taking photos for the project. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

For those unfamiliar with the fidget spinner, its a simple handheld device with three prongs that the user spins around a center wheel. Think of it as an equivalent of pencil-twirling without the functionality of a writing implement.

While legend has it the device was created to help people with Attention Deficit Disorder focus, its inventor said in a recent interview that she created the spinner after she saw young boys throwing rocks at police in Israel, and thought the kids needed a way to release pent-up energy.

In recent months, the now-off-patent spinners went viral, prompting some schools around the country to ban them as a distraction to learning. But the fifth- and sixth-graders at Fair Haven’s Knollwood School, running a business called FH Gizmos, recently landed a paying contract to produce a customized version of the spinners for up-and-coming tech player Slack.

The class is part of the school district’s response to new state education standards that call for children to learn career awareness and entrepreneurship, said teacher Chris Aviles, who co-leads the school’s Innovation Lab with teacher Katie Smith.

“I could teach this new curriculum with boring worksheets, but I want to do better for our kids,” Aviles said. “I wanted students to have the authentic experience of running their own business, so in January, 2016, we started one.”

The students didn’t set out to get into the fidget spinner business. But a fortuitous contact with the folks at Slack, a fast-growing business communication app, turned into an opportunity that they jumped on, Aviles said

As part of the curriculum, students are encouraged to learn how to share their work digitally, and one of the standards aims to teach children about using “asynchronous communication.” That’s what Slack offers: the ability of work colleagues to share information without need to be signed into the Twitter-like platform at the same time.

Aviles told redbankgreen that he reached out to Slack to see if the students could get an account for their business. The answer: no, Slack doesn’t make its service available to users that young.

But company officials were curious about the inquiry, and when Aviles told them about the class, Slack came back with a request: we need a ‘toy’ to offer new hires to help them focus as they settle in at the corporate learning center. The toy would be included in a goodie bag that also includes a company t-shirt, decals and other items. Could FH Gizmos come up with one?

The request provided a real-life chance for the class to do what real businesses do, said Aviles. So students embarked on a design process that began with students trying to “empathize” with the client in order to understand the challenge, said seventh-grader Hailey Blum.

“Empathizing is a big thing with FH Gizmos, and that is one of the hardest steps for a lot of these kids, because you have to care about other people and really, like, feel their feelings,” she told redbankgreen. “That’s hard, because these days we really care a lot about ourselves.”

The process led to the creation of about 30 prototype toys made with popsicle sticks, string, bottle caps and other common objects. Among them: foot-tappers, hand-tappers and a literal laundry basket of discarded prototypes of devices created on a 3-D printer in the school’s media center.

Teachers and administrators helped beta-test the devices for usefulness. Then the class narrowed the inventions down to 12 they thought feasible and shipped them off to San Francisco, where Slack employees chose an S-shaped fidget spinner — and placed an order for 50, at $20 a pop.

Why wouldn’t Slack just buy the items off the shelf?

“They wanted something unique, something that shows ‘Slack,'” said Hailey.  The design the class came up with includes Slack’s hashtag logo engraved on the toys.

After going through “the whole design feedback cycle” with Slack, the class had the component parts of the fidget spinners custom-manufactured by an Arizona company run and staffed by military veterans, Aviles said. The class then assembled the devices for shipment.

“We know how important it is for kids to learn entrepreneurial skills early, and we are so impressed with the hard work of these future business men and women at Knollwood School,” Slack said in a prepared statement.

Representatives of Barnes and Noble and Tinkercad, the vendor of a 3-D design app used at the school, have also expressed interest in getting their own custom fidget spinners, Aviles said.

Hailey and classmate Milana Strulowitz led redbankgreen on a recent tour of the company, with work teams clustered around tables in the school’s media center. They include a the package-design team and an advertising department.

“We were looking for ways to advertise the company, and we thought one way to do that was to take pictures and put them on a website,” said Milena. Aviles built the FH Gizmos website, and a “squad” of photographers in the class is responsible for coming up with images for it.

Operating under the slogan, “Your Problem, Our Project,” which was coined by a student, FH Gizmos steers 25 percent of its profit into FH Gives, the company’s charitable-giving. And along with FH Grows, a hydroponics technology program for seventh-graders, they’re all under the umbrella of FH Innovates.

Eighth-graders are engaged in yet another operation, called FH Leads, which starting in November will offer for-hire consulting to help local businesses solve their problems. It’s already lined up some prospective clients, including Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, said Aviles.

FH Leads “is very cool, because you’re not just working in school,” said Milana. “You can go around town and do different things.” It’s also the final piece of a innovation curriculum that begins with fourth-graders learning the fundamentals of design, Aviles said.

“By eighth grade, I want them doing hands-on design for businesses,” he said. “That’s how I’m introducing them to business and careers. Instead of just having guest speakers come in, I want to get them out into the real world.”

And what becomes of FH Gizmos over the summer?

“Oh, well, actually, I don’t know, because I’m not here during the summer,” said Hailey.

“We didn’t learn about that yet,” added Milana.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
Partyline
YAPPY TOGETHER
RED BANK: Look for this cutie pie, named Sacramento, at Yappy Hour on Broadwalk Saturday. He's looking for a new home.
YELLOW RAINCOAT DAY
On a rainy May morning, the only golden sight on Broad Street this morning were the matching raincoats of Eileen and her dog Benny.
STOP. JUST STOP.
RED BANK: For those who don't get the meaning of a stop sign, crossing guard Diane Johnson amplifies the message with some colorful outfits. ...
RECORDS SKIP INTO TOWN
RED BANK: Devotees of vinyl records expected to drop needle at Broad and Mechanic Saturday. Here's why.
Feline fortunes on Monmouth Street
Christopher Russell and feline pal Princess take in some fresh air on a warm May night Thursday in the doorway of Gina’s Psychic Bouti ...
GOING UP?
RED BANK: Public Library will be closed Friday for the start of elevator construction. (Click for more.)
TREEBIRTH
RED BANK: Replacement of nine trees gets underway on South Street, where a wholesale removal angered residents last September. (Click for mo ...
RIVERSIDE FLOW
New Jersey Flow Arts brings together jugglers, poi spinners, hoopers and more weekly in Riverside Gardens Park.
Honeybee swarm carted away
Beekeeper Tanya Ptak of Ptak’s Apiary inspects a swarm of honeybees that chose a flower pot in the courtyard of Red Bank Primary Schoo ...
BELOVED POISONED DOG PHOTO SURFACES
   
THREE ON TOUR
RED BANK: Three borough sites will participate in a weekend of self-guided tours of 52 historic locations in Monmouth County May 4 & 5.
VOLUNTEERS GET INTO THE WEEDS
Toting plastic trash bags, 51 volunteers conducted a walking litter cleanup on Red Bank's West Side Saturday.
“IT’S A PARTY AT WAWA!”
You wish you could vibe like Brian, who lives on the other side of Hubbard’s Bridge. He caught redbankgreen’s attention in Red B ...
POPE OKS ORATORY
RED BANK: St. Anthony of Padua obtains papal approval to establish Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a community of priests and brothers devoted t ...
RED BANK: NEW MURAL BRIGHTENS CORNER
RED BANK: Lunch Break founder Norma Todd is depicted in a mural painted this week on the front of the newly renovated social service agency.
TULIPS TOGETHER
Spring tulips taking in the sunset outside the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank Monday evening.
RIVER RANGERS RETURN
River Rangers, a summer canoeing program offered by the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association, returns this summer for up to 20 participa ...
DOUBLE DYLAN IN RED BANK
Trucks for a production company filming what one worker said was a Bob Dylan biography have lined Monmouth Street the past two days with cre ...
AFTER THE RAIN
A pear tree branch brought down by a brief overnight storm left a lovely tableau on the sidewalk in front of Red Bank's Riverside Gardens Pa ...
CONE OF UNCERTAINTY
Asked by a redbankgreen reporter why these cones were on top of cars, the owner of the car in the foreground responded: “That’s ...