AURORA -- Students at Harmon School brought a can-do attitude to "Canstruction," an annual project in which they design and plan structures made of cans and other non-perishable foods.

Harmon School technology teacher Shawn Reilly said students raised about $708 to buy the non-perishables that comprise their sculptures this year.

"Every year, it seems we get around $600 to $800," he said. "The first thing students do is brainstorm an idea as a class and decide what they want to make."

After deciding what they want to do, Reilly said each class divides into teams that work on different aspects of building project, which is entirely student-driven.

"The whole thing is group work," said Reilly. "Somehow they pull it together and pull it off."

In each class, one group is usually in charge of fundraising, while another works on the actual design of the sculpture, he explained. Several prototypes are usually made of pasta before the final design is constructed.

The entire process takes three weeks, said Reilly. The first week is devoted to coming up with ideas of what to build, designing prototypes and figuring out how to raise money. The second week is when the fundraising takes place, and the third week is building week, explained Reilly.

After the project is complete, the food is donated to Volunteers of America in Aurora.

This year, the five classes built a pineapple, a Pac-Man video game, the Eiffel Tower, a carton of movie popcorn and a Cleveland Cavaliers player. The Eiffel Tower won the design competition this year, which was announced to students Jan. 27.

"It's pretty competitive to say the least," said Reilly. "Up there, we have a little over 1,600 canned goods and boxed goods."

Harmon School Principal Mark Abramovich said the project is great for students, who learn to work together in the service of the community.

"Shawn Reilly does a great job designing it all and making sure they hit so many different areas of the curriculum," he said. "The whole philanthropic part of giving to others and helping others out is just priceless in terms of the amount of learning that takes place."

Harmon School student Jenna VanRaepenbusch, one of the students from the Eiffel Tower class, said raising money was a challenge. "We thought raising $96 was going to be really easy," she said. "We barely made it."

Reilly said the class raised money by asking people to guess how much candy was in a jar.

Jack Nyerges, a member of the same class, said it might have helped to lower the price on guesses. Jenna said a different fundraiser may have worked better.

"Since it was during lunch periods, people wanted food," she said. "The people who had the largest amounts [of money] were the bake sale and hot chocolate classes."

The Eiffel Tower class was actually on the low end in fundraising. Other classes raised $102 with a basket raffle, $159 with a bake sale, $162 with a basketball shooting event and $188 selling hot chocolate, according to a tally provided by Reilly.

Reilly said different students excel in different areas during the project. "You kind of see leaders emerge from the group," he said. "You can see which ones take charge and get people on track."

While some learn leadership skills, other students break out of their shells, he added. The pride of creating and being part of something bigger than themselves helps them.

"Sometimes, kids are really shy," said Reilly. "They learn to deal with the public to try to raise money. They get really excited to do it; they like to sell stuff."


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