Austin Schatz saw a picture of a wooden balance bike from Germany his freshman year in high school, and started working on a design to call his own.
“I needed a project,” the now-16-year-old said. “So I made foam designs and created a pattern to make the bikes quickly.”
Today Schatz and his project partner, Tristan Borst, are leading students in Shadle Park High School’s woodshop to make a bike that helps toddlers learn to balance on two wheels – the Toddler Waddler.
Along the way, the two boys determined more efficient uses for materials, cost-cutting options, safety features and how to customize each bike; continuous improvement is a requirement for students in this Career and Technical Education program.
The teens’ opportunity is one that future students are going to lose. Washington lawmakers passed legislation to increase credit requirements for high school students statewide starting with the class of 2019. Spokane Public Schools currently requires 22 credits for a district diploma; the new requirement will be 24.
With the new credit requirements, students who choose a college pathway in high school will only have room in their schedule for one elective, said Lisa White, director of career and technical education for the district.
Bottom line: Students will have the opportunity for fewer exploratory classes to determine where their interests lie, and students will need to know what path they’re planning to take when they get to high school. To help, the district is planning to offer more electives related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics in middle schools.
Schatz, who plans to be an engineer, has appreciated the opportunity to usher a design from drafting to production to sale. The next six bikes are being donated to the high school’s Child Development Program.
“I support these classes all the way,” Schatz said. “I can go to math class and learn the Pythagorean Theorem, but in this class I get to use it.”
Schatz’s shop teacher, Ray Harding, is disappointed fewer students will be able to attend his vocational classes. “I have kids who tell me they wouldn’t stay in school if it wasn’t for this class,” he said.
Whether students move on to professional or trade jobs, Harding is proud. “Students can go from our class to engineering programs,” he said. “I’ve got students out there working concrete, working at Boeing and a girl doing interior designing. If you look at the tooling we have for building these bikes, we can build a bike frame in about an hour.”
If testimony from the first Toddler Waddler customer is any indication about the success students can have in creating products, Harding could be adding entrepreneur to his group.
Schatz and Borst custom-designed a bike for 3-year-old Kenji High-Edward last Christmas. The boy practically sleeps with the bike since taking possession.
“He’s on it all the time,” said Phil High-Edward, a Shadle Park assistant principal. “He rides it around the house, around the garage and on the street.”