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Today's Family Magazine

Concord student’s invention wins national prize

Feb 27, 2017 11:38AM ● By Today's Family
By Mary Flenner

The National Museum of Education, located in Akron, is giving kids across the country a reason to put on their thinking caps and get innovating. Their national competition, Student Ideas for a Better America™, seeks to encourage student learning, insight, creativity and workmanship. Any idea or invention that solves a problem or makes life better is welcomed, whether an idea for a new product, an improvement on an existing product or a new procedure.

Sarah Hofius of Concord won the prestigious honor with the invention she submitted last year, while in seventh grade at Notre Dame Elementary School in Chardon.  Her teacher, Debbie Mulhall, incorporates the competition into the curriculum every year.

Sarah's invention, the Swifter Lifter, is a conveyor belt that attaches to a staircase to help elderly or disabled people to move laundry or heavy objects up and down the stairs.

She was inspired by dementia patients she used to care for alongside her grandmother.  “I’ve been really interested in elderly and disabled work.  I’ve seen them get injured while lifting heavy things, so I thought about any way I could prevent that,” said Sarah.

For the competition, students are tasked with researching the invention to make sure nothing similar has already been invented.  The NMOE receives thousands of entries each year, so a winning entry has to be unique.

“I really liked designing the idea,” says Sarah, who has loved building things since she was a child. Whether it was Minecraft, Legos or Tinker Toys, she remembers having an interest in putting things together since she was young.  “This has definitely inspired me to try and invent more things,” she says.

“Creative contests like this are so important because education is so much bigger than what happens inside the walls of the school. It’s such a collaboration.  The kids apply things they’ve learned from personal experience, from their parents, from other students and what they learn in their community. It’s great that, at such a young age, they’re already thinking about how they can leave their community better than they found it,” says Mulhall.

For over 28 years, the National Museum of Education has helped over 85 students and teachers turn their entries into products that are now on the national market.

NMOE’s assistant executive director, Gay Evans, said, “Throughout history, young people have had innovative ideas, but they haven’t always had an outlet.  Or they might make something, but then it just sits on a shelf.  Our country has always led the world in innovation, so it’s great to give young people an opening and an outlet year-round.”

“Lately we’ve been seeing a big trend towards recycling, reproducing and repurposing… to repurpose is great because then it’s not going in a landfill,” says Evans.

Along with a cash prize of $100, Sarah has the chance to be inducted into the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors.

The Student Ideas for a Better America™ competition is open to all students K-12 and accepts entries year-round.  A model is not required and students can enter independently or seek the assistance of a teacher, parent, mentor or professional to help in the process. Applications for 2017 are being accepted, and three national awards are given each month.  Teachers and students interested in entering the contest can find information at