Connor Fryberger needed to improvise.
Within a month of CM’s transition to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his teacher, Ms. Sheila Hufnagle, had asked his 8th grade science class to design 3D models of any virus they wanted.
Since he needed to complete the assignment in his kitchen at home - as opposed to a Donohue Hall classroom - he looked for any household items that resembled the general shape of the rabies virus he had chosen.
“We were limited in our supplies because we couldn’t really go to a lot of the stores,” said Connor, a Needham resident.
“Many of them were closed.”
A sponge underneath the kitchen sink sparked his imagination. While the sponge gave him a porous material to work with, he still needed to find a way to shape it to his liking.
“I had originally thought about using the sponge but then realized it was too hard to cut,” said Connor.
So, Connor thought outside the box. Instead of cutting the sponge, he wrapped it in paper. Then, using an assortment of toothpicks, tape, and glue, he created the virus’ outer protein. Within a few hours, Connor had a savvy replica of the rabies virus ready to show his class on Zoom.
Adding this creative touch to his online learning assignment seemed like the appropriate punctuation to a year full of growth inside and outside the classroom for Connor.
When Connor entered the 8th grade at CM, he had already stood out from his time on the middle school soccer and hockey teams in the 7th grade. However, he wanted to find more balance between his athletics and schoolwork.
“I wasn’t really the best at math last year,” Connor said.
“But then, I kept on working on the assignments and decided to take my time when doing homework. Over time, I did better and even made honors this year.”
Connor said he developed this sense of resiliency earlier in the school year when Ms. Hufnagle introduced him and his classmates to the Rube Goldberg project. The assignment prompted students to create a domino effect that resulted in a completed task. For Connor, this meant using a cardboard box, some toy cars, and lots of dominos to land a tiny basketball into a miniature hoop.
The project took a lot of trial and error, Connor remembers, and plenty of patience. But, with each near miss, Connor found a new opportunity to fix the trajectory of his cardboard track or the angle of a single domino.
When the basketball finally landed, he felt a deep sense of pride in seeing his hard work pay off. That sense of pride encouraged him to stay patient and go the extra mile on exams in the classroom and during games on the soccer field and ice rink.
“Over the course of the school year, I’ve really seen [Connor] shine as a creative individual who isn’t afraid to take risks in the classroom and isn’t afraid to take the next step forward in his growth,” said Ms. Hufnagle.
“He’s a great kid who I know will continue to work even harder next year at the high school.”
Connor’s World Language teacher, Mr. PJ Rufo, agrees with Ms. Hufnagle’s assessment.
“As an 8th grader, the fact he’s taking Chinese is a tremendous show of initiative,” said Mr. Rufo.
“His determination to not back down from any challenge makes him a great role model for his classmates.”
Now, as Connor prepares to enter the high school next year, he knows his ability to improvise will pay off in places like the Innovation Lab and Math Studio. Better yet—it will equip him with the tools needed to tackle bigger and more complex problems further down the road.