Kadena Elementary spotlights black inventors
February 16, 2009
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — In today’s world of computers, Ysabelle Rattray, 6, likely will never use a typewriter.
But the kindergartner can tell you who invented the Sun typewriter, a model that was sturdier and more dependable than its predecessors. "Two people — Lee Burridge and (Newman R.) Marshman," she said Wednesday.
As part of a project to celebrate Black History Month, Ysabelle and her kindergarten classmates at Kadena Elementary School re-created inventions pioneered by black inventors.
"It was not very hard to make," Ysabelle said, as she explained how she glued together cardboard and brown construction paper with some help from her parents.
The 27 inventions are displayed in the "African American Inventors Museum" inside a spare classroom.
An empty coffee can was turned into a telescope lens; a shaving cream bottle modeled as a fire extinguisher; and pipe cleaners served as ropes for a cardboard elevator.
The models cover such well-known inventors as Benjamin Banneker, an astronomer and almanac author, and such lesser-known creators as J.A. Burr, who developed the lawn mower.
The idea is to give youngsters an early appreciation of black inventors whose contributions continue to benefit society, teacher Kelley Sermons said.
Sermons said scientist George Washington Carver will be synonymous with the peanut, and beautician Madame C. J. Walker with developing black hair care products. However, many others left their imprint but were denied the ability to patent their products or receive compensation because of slavery and other racial barriers, Sermons added. "It goes deeper than that. People don’t really realize it’s history that’s been left out," Sermons said.
Students were assigned an inventor and invention, and were given three weeks to complete their projects, Sermons said.
It’s often a learning experience for the parents, too. "They’ll come in and say: ‘I never knew who invented that,’ " Sermons said.
She said the students’ final products demonstrated their enthusiasm for the assignment. "The kids really enjoyed it, they really got into it, and I was really proud of that," she said.
The makeshift museum is open to the school to give other students a chance to see a part of everyday history up close, Sermons said. She also created a quiz, so visiting students can test their knowledge of the inventors and inventions.
For some of the youngsters, discovering the inventors helped them understand the importance of innovations — like Garrett Morgan developing the traffic signal or Sarah Boone’s design of a narrow, wooden ironing board.
If machinist Rufus Stokes hadn’t invented an air pollution control device, many people would have trouble breathing, said Alanna Kregness, 5, who built a replica of the device that helped reduce gas and ash emissions from industrial plants.
And how would people tell time without clocks, said Jasmine McIntyre, 5, as she showed off her display of one of Banneker’s creations — the first clock built in the United States.
"It helps people know when to go to school and when to go to work," Jasmine said.