by Matthew Burwell (2016)
Back in the 1990’s, Mrs. Susan Fennelly, a teacher at Wethersfield High School, started the “JETS” club. This club doesn’t play football or fly planes. “JETS” stands for the Junior Engineering and Technical Society.
The WHS JETS team consists of high school students who design products which assist people with disabilities undertake new and difficult tasks at work. The newly designed products are then entered into a national competition called the SourceAmerica AbilityOne Design Challenge. This competition puts other high school teams from across the country in a design battle.
In 2014, the JETS team collaborated with CW Resources, a notforprofit company which employs the disabled, to design “The Path” which won the Challenge National Championship. The PATH is a work station that helped a disabled man take on a more complex job at CW Resources and make more money.
The 2015-2016 JETS team is currently comprised of 40 students. They meet weekly to develop possible solutions to technical problems faced by a worker at CW Resources. The team helps students give back to the community by helping those citizens that need help most. As one of the new additions to the team, senior Piere Franklin, said “...the main part [of the club] is it's about helping people.”
The overall competition that the products are submitted to is the Source America Design Challenge. According to the Source America website this competition challenges “...the students and the nonprofits join together to brainstorm ideas and design workplace technologies that could create a more productive workplace or generate new job opportunities for people with disabilities.”
This is a national competition with more than 300 schools participating. Each team must create a product, an essay and video covering the design product and impact it has.
Judges then whittle down the submissions to five finalists. During finals presentation, the five teams are invited to Washington D.C. to present their projects.
Not only do the teams learn from other presenters, but see presentations from representatives of the disabled community. In 2014, WHS students saw a presentation by Gregory Gadson, a retired army colonel, and a star of the movie, “Battleship.” Gadson lost both of his legs serving in the military, but fortunately was the first military personnel fitted with a new prosthetic leg that power at the knee.
Over the years, the JETS’ projects have changed a great deal. At one point, the team built and flew model rockets. After that, the JETS national organization started sponsoring the competition for assistive technologies. Mrs Fennelly said that “...I asked the kids do you want to do rockets or do you want to go back to the [design] program and they decided that we go back to this program and that was fine with me.”
It is not an exaggeration to say the WHS JETS team is a shining beacon of hope. It shows all the good that can come from people, even of high school students, and illustrates the absolute best form of human nature, giving back to others. All members are proud to say that they are members of the Wethersfield High School JETS team.