“Out of the Box” Thinking Leads to Big Win for FCS 3rd Graders

  • Posted 3/14/2023

    Out of the Box 1

    L-R: Summit Hill ES Principal Dr. Lorrie Bearden, and Out of the Box Designs Team: Hayes McDonald, Amelia Agypt, Meadow Farrar, Julianna Chehimi, Grego Monroy, and Deb Leeson, Advanced Strategies Lab Instructor

    Out of the Box Thinking 2

    Summit Hill 3rd graders with their "Fresh for Change" prototype.


    A group of 3rd graders at Summit Hill Elementary could change the world with one box. Their project, "Fresh for Change", recently won Best Overall in the elementary category at the Fulton County Schools (FCS) Design Thinking Competition.

    Design Thinking is a classroom concept used by FCS for several years now. Yalanda Bell, executive director of Academic Programs, calls it "a way to elevate problem-based learning."

    Deb Leeson is the Advanced Strategies Lab instructor at Summit Hill and led the winning group. She says Design Thinking encourages communication, collaboration and empathy.

    "It's kind of a way to do things in the real world," says Leeson.

    Participants could choose from one of three categories, each seeking a solution to a big problem. Summit Hill's team chose "Eco-Friendly Packaging." The question was, "how might we develop innovative paper food packaging that reduces food waste?"

    The 3rd graders dubbed their team "Out of the Box Designs" and ran with the idea.

    "I really was just there to be a guide," says Leeson.

    After extensive research, including collaborations with Southern Champion Tray and Publix, the talented team designed a multi-purpose prototype.

    A big feature was a QR code with links to educate shoppers about "best by" versus expiration dates, along with information on where to buy "ugly" produce -- fruits and vegetables that don't make the cut because of blemishes but are still perfectly good to eat - at discounts up to 30 percent.

    Empathy was a big part of the project too.

    Leeson says one student was moved when she noticed the homeless around the holidays. That inspired students to include a link on their QR code to North Fulton Community Charities Food Pantry.

    The group also worked with Southern Champion Tray to develop a concept for biodegradable packaging that could double as a bowl and utensils.

    "Just for 3rd graders, I thought all these ideas were so impressive," says Leeson.

    Students had to make their final pitch to panelists representing cities across Fulton County.

    "They were presenting in front of professional people from business and industry, not necessarily myself or their teachers," says Bell. "I think that added a little bit of a different element to it."

    Summit Hill's "Out of the Box Designs" group was the youngest in the Design Thinking Competition.

    "It was just an incredible opportunity," says Leeson. "They have a lot to give to the future."

    Summit Hill was one of 11 teams that took part in the Design Thinking Competition.

    Two teams from Crabapple Crossing Elementary took home four awards, with a 1st and 3rd place win in the Game Day category, along with wins in the categories of People's Choice and Most Creative.

    Taylor Road Middle School won two awards - one for Best Prototype and a 2nd place win in the Food Packaging category.

    River Trail Middle School took home Best Overall in the middle school category, and their team won 1st place in the Food Packaging category.

    Global Impact Academy won Best Overall High School and took home 1st place in the Community Resources category.

    Four schools took home one award each:
    Johns Creek High School: 3rd place - Food Packaging
    Innovation Academy: 2nd place - Game Day
    Fulton Academy of Science and Technology (FAST): 3rd place - Community Resources
    Evoline C. West Elementary: 2nd place - Community Resources