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The CentennialX conference in Warminster broadens the definition of education

 Jamie Gray never thought he could speak in front of an audience until he needed to present plans for the glow-in-the-dark socks he and his team had developed for their CentennialX challenge.

The 18-year-old joined his fellow innovative thinkers Thursday in the auditorium at William Tennent High School in Warminster as part of the school district’s third annual summer program designed to give students an opportunity to generate new ideas and put them into action.

Gray and his teammates, Isaac Deerwester, 18, and Shaina Gatton, 17, presented their product, Uili (Samoan for bicycle and pronounced Wheelie) at the daylong conference.

“It was all very organic,” said Gray, of the birth of the unique socks that allow motorists to better see cyclists during the day and night. The group worked for six weeks on the project, first surveying bicycle riders and learning bike safety, then brainstorming the idea of highly visible socks with extra padding at the heel and toe and a “breathable” mesh top.

Along the way, they learned things they may not have learned in a traditional classroom.

“It taught me a lot about taking risks and problem-solving,” said Deerwester, who is heading to Drexel University to study computer engineering.

Being part of CentennialX, said Gatton, “helps you stand out when applying for college and jobs. You created a tangible product … it’s not just a test score.”

That’s precisely the point of the program, explained Albert Catarro, coordinator of partnerships and affiliations for the Centennial School District.

Today’s students, he said, “need a comprehensive education that gives them transferable skills they can use in the real world.”

Moving from standards-based education to skills-based learning, programs such as CentennialX “brings more relevance to learning,” added Catarro.

State Rep. Frank A. Farry, R-142, of Langhorne, attended the conference and praised the program, which partners students, teachers, industry professionals and entrepreneurs.

“It’s not just book learning, which is an important foundation, it offers students an opportunity to explore ideas,” said the lawmaker. “One would hope it continues to grow.”

Another presentation included a team that developed a novel way to engage and educate children involved in clinical trials. A social media campaign is underway to promote the project.

“Innovative new medicines can be greatly delayed simply because people don’t know about the opportunity to volunteer in clinical research,” said Joseph Kim, senior adviser of clinical innovation at Eli Lily and Co. “We know it’s a long game, but we believe joining forces with programs like CentennialX will yield positive results for society down the line.”

CentennialX is a collaboration among William Tennent and Upper Dublin high schools, Eli Lily and Co., PRA Health Sciences, Standard MedX, Fox Chase Cancer Center, iCAN, Keswick Cycle Shop, The Branta Group and others.

Photo: Abigail Christofas, a student at William Tennent High School, presents her team’s project on rare diseases that develops novel approaches to connect various stakeholders and expedite cures, during the Centennial X conference in Warminster on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. The student presentations culminate their summer projects that help them learn transferable skills which lead to success after high school.

Credit: Bucks County Courier Times

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