The Athens "Big Idea" project connects students and community

Big Idea projects in Athens schools

by Jean Cole of the Athens News-Courier, January 24, 2020

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ARS Bid Idea Students

 One Athens elementary school student, Robert Holcomb, said he wants the city to build a YMCA.


An Athens High School student, James Irvin, said he wants the city to build a go-cart racetrack at the city's center, one that mirrors Nintendo's "Super Mario Kart" video game.


Two other high schoolers, Lauren Ward and Nathan Baker, said they would like someone to build a haunted house in the city where participants would have to stay a week.


These students, and students in schools across the city, are working on their projects for the Athens Big Idea contest. Last year, Athens Renaissance School devised the contest and invited every school in the city to participate by developing a project that makes Athens a better place to live, work and play.


It's not too late for students to submit ideas to the contest, said Chris Paysinger, Project-Based Learning teacher at ARS. Visit for information on how to participate. The website and its content were created entirely by ARS students and include resources for students in grades K-12 who might want to join the contest. Specifically, it includes a video explaining the contest, rules, ways to develop ideas and other helpful information.


It could work

An idea for the contest can be an invention, use of public space, new business or an education or social service program, Paysinger said. Teachers and others can help students refine ideas, build inventions and gather data.


"Participants may build an invention, formulate initiatives, submit development plans for use of public space, produce a video or build an app that will help improve the lives of our town and its citizens," he said.


Since rules for the contest were set out in November, individuals, groups and clubs have been brainstorming, weighing the pros, cons and feasibility of their ideas and illustrating how their final choice would work.


Each school will soon have a contest to choose the winning idea from that school. That winning student, or students, will go on to the district-level contest April 14 at Athens High School auditorium, where $1,000 in cash prizes will be awarded.


On April 3, ARS students plan to give a presentation on the project to Athens Rotary Club members, Paysinger said.


One change

Athens Big Idea contest was initially intended to include a separate contest for city leaders, who would be judged by students. But Paysinger said it took more time than expected to convey the nature of the contest to the schools, especially the elementary schools, and too little time was left to include the contest for city leaders.


"Maybe we will do that next year," Paysinger said.