Two PSES students are pictured here during their “Genius Hour,” designing fabric covers for the popular fidget spinner toy.

PSES ‘Genius Hour’ aims to create critical thinkers

Unlike at many schools where the first half hour is spent in homeroom, students at Philip Simmons Elementary School (PSES) are busy working hands-on with their individual passion projects.
Whether it’s learning to sew, designing and printing a fidget spinner with a 3D printer or working with Aldi in Florida to create a conveyer belt that will (hopefully) be able to sort legos, there is no limit to what the PSES students can create during the school’s appropriately named “Genius Hour.”
By providing an atmosphere where students can learn real-world skills, PSES has created something truly unique. Through these projects, students are developing abilities early on that employers look for upon graduation, explained librarian Rosemary Herold, who supervises Genius Hour. 
“They’re learning new skills,” she said. “It’s those soft skills that the 21st century graduate really needs. The problem solving—things that employers really want. It is still standards-based, but it’s those skills that they wouldn’t really get an opportunity to flush out on their own.”
Each semester, a new group of students gets the opportunity to take part in this innovative program, continued Herold. For the first quarter of each semester, the students work on a guided project. This semester, they worked on solving the food desert that exists in the area surrounding the Philip Simmons schools.
“Philip Simmons, the school, is in a food desert,” she said. “A food desert constitutes something that doesn’t have access to healthy food within four miles. The kids and us, we interviewed a couple of experts, we interviewed someone from the Lowcountry Food Bank. We did a conference call with Katie Dahlheim at the Lowcountry Blessing Box project. We talked by email with a couple of experts. And then the kids came up with solutions on how they wanted to help solve the food desert.”
Those solutions included a seed drive to create a community garden, a canned food drive and a Blessing Box, added Herold.
“We did a bake sale during our fall festival and they raised money for the Blessing Box,” she said. “They have made prototypes and have had to examine it and see what went wrong…That way, when we go to create the big one, we’ll have our prototype a little more accurate. We’re going start that in a week or two in our Maker Space. We’ve got saws, hammers and drills. We’re going to build it. We even had a parent who donated wood.”
The Blessing Box, which will be registered with the Lowcountry Food Bank once completed, will house donated non-perishable foods for those in need to take.
“It’s just a place where people can come, take what they need and give what they can,” said Herold.
One student who is currently in the Genius Hour class, Meritt Payne, took it upon herself to build a Blessing Box, continued Herold.
“We have one child, Merritt, who created one in her own free time and registered it on the Lowcountry Food Bank,” said Herold. “(They) actually asked her to represent them on the news. We got to go on the news a couple of weeks ago so she could talk about why she felt passionate about it and why she decided to do that in her own spare time.”
When asked about what sparked the idea to create her own Blessing Box, Payne stated that she pulled inspiration from ideas discussed during their guided Genius Hour.
“I got the idea from what we do and talk about in MTSS [Genius Hour],” said Payne. “I just wanted to do one on my own. I want to help people in the area by making three blessing boxes.”
To learn more about Genius Hour or to schedule a visit, email Herold at or Principal Dr. Karen Whitley at


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Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
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