Hatboro-Horsham High School 'student elves' create original toys for Toys for Tots

Student-designed chess board and pucket game are on display in Nick Pompei’s manufacturing and engineering class with chess/checkers pieces beside them. Deneia Washington — For Digital First Media

HORSHAM >> Students at Hatboro-Horsham High School are learning skills that go beyond the classroom as they donate original, hand-crafted games to Toys for Tots.

Referred to by many as Hatboro-Horsham High’s “student elves,” these students have worked hard to transform their ideas into usable, fun creations made just in time for the holidays.

Since 2007, Nick Pompei, a technology education teacher, has led the Toys for Tots project at the high school in his manufacturing and engineering elective course. Over the past nine years, his students have donated more than 100 custom-made toys and games that have been given to local children. Some of the toys and games include foosball tables, slap hockey and shuffleboard-style games.

While the project serves as a way for students to creatively give back to the community, it also sets the tone for projects to come in the course.

“It was their intro project for the year,” Pompei said. “So it’s how they started to get working and used to using the tools and machines in the class.”

Each year, every student gets the opportunity to pitch an idea to the class, after which a vote is held to determine which design idea garners the most attention and enthusiasm. Pompei is teaching two classes this year, meaning two separate games have been designed.

This year, both classes, totaling 36 students, had a theme in mind: a dual-sided game that incorporates chess and checkers.

“That was what worked out good this year,” Pompei said.

With past projects, it had been difficult for Pompei to plan out necessary materials for two separate projects.

“This one was fairly straightforward and fairly simple this year, so that made it easier,” he added.

Before production began, there were many components of the board game that each class discussed. The size of the game, materials needed and cost analysis were reviewed before they moved forward.

One class designed a chess and checkerboard that when turned over could be used as a chalkboard. The other class designed a pucket game where opponents try to get wooden pieces to the opponent’s hole by way of an elastic band, with a chess and checkerboard on the back.

In order to play chess and checkers, players need the pieces. But instead of getting separate pieces for these two different games, the pieces were made in a way that allowed them to be used interchangeably no matter which game one chooses to play.

The pieces were made one by one through the usage of a 3D printer, in which layers of materials are formed to create an object through a repeated motion. The pieces are identified through colors, and symbols of the chessman are ingrained at the center of this circular, three-dimensional object. A little more than 500 pieces were created, with the process of printing taking nearly 20 minutes for each.

Creating the 3D printouts was an intricate and time-consuming process. Taking about five to six weeks to finish all prints, both classes had to make sure they had the correct amount of pieces for each board, meticulously counting and making sure colors lined up with the right board in order to reflect the realism of the game. From there, students organized the pieces in bags separated by color, preparing them to be sent off.

Along with coming up with a game and formulating a cool design, it is just as important for the class to know and understand who the game’s audience is, Pompei said. He asked students if the idea was something that reflects the games they would play.

“Toys for Tots always tells us they get stuff for little kids, hardly anything ever for older kids,” Pompei said. “We always try to gear it towards high school kids, middle school kids.”

As students worked together to team build and problem solve, Pompei said he hopes students can take some of the lessons learned in this class and apply it to other classes. He also said he believes that an elective course like this is important in catering to the different ways students learn.

“A lot of times, some kids learn better by doing,” Pompei said. “So a lot of times I think kids find themselves a little more in a class like this where they’re struggling somewhere else.”

The final product for the students elves were 10 of the dual chalkboard and chess and checkers game and six pucket game boards, and this year, Pompei plans to take the class on a field trip to the local Toys for Tots to present the game boards.

“I love doing it every year,” Pompei said. “It’s a good way for us to give back.”

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