Students work on a Maker project at Comstock Middle School.

Students work on a Maker project at Comstock Middle School.

Comstock Middle School’s Project Make recently earned Santa Rosa City School District the prestigious Golden Bell Award.

The award, given by the California School Boards Association, recognizes innovative school programs around the state.

“It’s a great honor,” said Comstock Principal Laura Hendrickson.

Comstock was the first middle school and the second school  in the county to create a Maker class, which is a 21st-century twist on old-school wood shop classes, where students learn to create a variety of items from scratch, Hendrickson said.  It started as a pilot summer camp in the summer of 2012 with the help of teacher Dale Dougherty, who created the county’s first in-school maker program at Analy High School.

The successful summer camp morphed into a class offering the next year at the school, where 95 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. Now, Comstock offers two sections of  the popular class, Hendrickson said. The class helps provide students the technical education and problem-solving skills they will need if they plan to move on to nearby Piner High School and participate in the school’s new, science-focused educational track that can take them all the way to a science major at Sonoma State University. 

Project Make came to Comstock at a time the school was trying to rebuild its electives, which had been slashed as result of funding problems brought on by the recession, declining enrollment and No Child Left Behind, Hendrickson said.

The camp continues each summer, with about 100 students enrolled.

“The kids really love it,” she said. “A lot of our students never even held a hammer.” Now, those same students are hammering together raised beds for a garden and creating their own bricks out of cement and milk cartons. Other projects include creating and launching models of hot air balloons and building Rube-Goldberg machines.

Last year, the program earned the school Sonoma State University’s Jack London award for educational innovation.