Technology department collaborates on community service project

Over 300 students from 17 classes worked to design, construct decorations for a Christmas tree to be auctioned off at the Baby Fold’s Festival of Trees

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Drew Farmer

With its student made ornaments and decorations, the Technology department expects its tree to stand out at the Festival of Trees — “We have wooded trees… We made a whole bunch of homemade gifts that we’re going to fill two crates [with]. There’s well over 250 items that are on the tree,” Mr. Don Whitman said.

The Technology department collaborated on a one-of-a-kind holiday display for auction at the Baby Fold’s 28th annual Festival of Trees.

Supported by a $5000 grant, over 300 Technology students designed ornaments to decorate a “rustic-theme[d]” Christmas tree to help support the local children’s agency.

The Festival, Nov. 18-20 at the Interstate Center, is the Baby Fold’s largest fundraiser of the year. The event’s proceeds help support over 1200 families annually, Jessica Shaw, the Baby Fold’s event coordinator, said. 

Students from 16 technology classes and the AP Statistics class worked on different planning, design, and construction stages, Technology department head Mr. Donald Whitman said. 

Course curriculum determined each classes’ role in the project — Metal Working students made metal ornaments, Woodworking students made handmade wooden cut-out ornaments, Engineering classes 3D printed decorations.

STEM Capstone students developed the project’s overall theme, while AP Statistics analyzed data to determine the ideal amount of ornaments.

Other Technology classes from Tech. Concepts to Animation and Rendering designed and created the decorations demonstrating their course’s skills. 

Students constructed the ornaments using machinery ranging from tools like a CNC plasma torch and CNC router to 3-D printers and laser cutters purchased with Beyond the Books grant money.

The Beyond the Books grant, Whitman said, allowed the Technology department to challenge students to work together with unfamiliar technology.

Beyond collaboration and content-area skills, Whitman hopes students learn a life lesson. 

“I think [the donation] opens the eyes of lots of students,” Whitman said. “The students here in the Technology department have a skillset … and skills can be donated rather than donating money.”

Other lessons came in the form of the students’ unique challenges during the design process, the Technology department’s Mr. Matthew Emberson said.

“Students had to redesign a few times and troubleshoot things that weren’t working,” Emberson said. 

Despite some “hiccups” caused by a delay in receiving the new equipment and “the learning curve” in using it — the Festival of Tree’s donation is the department’s largest-scale collaboration and community service project. 

Whitman, who has previously donated to the Baby Fold, said the department wanted to make a substantial difference in the community involving its students. 

“I would always contribute at Christmas time,” Whitman said, as his family would buy the items on a person’s Christmas list for the Baby Fold. “But that was just one person and just my family. I wanted to do something that … truly [had] a big impact.”  

While the event typically generates more than $200,000 a year, “our best year we were at $255,000,” Jessica Shaw said.

Shaw said the Festival of Trees originated with “just a handful of trees,” but has grown to offer 650 auction items run by nearly 500 volunteers.

“It’s become such a good tradition in central Illinois that we try to go all out every year,” Shaw said, “and just make it the best event we can make it.” 

This year the Technology department’s decorated tree will be one of 113 available for auction. Trees typically raise $200-300 for the Baby Fold. 

Bidding opens Wednesday, Nov. 17 online; Tickets for the Festival of Trees are on sale now at the Baby Fold’s website