Austintown 7th-graders get on their Soap Box for learning

By Susan Tebben


With the help of a grant from a local nonprofit, Austintown Middle School seventh-grade students will start their racing careers in the new year.

Students in the AMS STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — program will start building three Soap Box Derby cars to race in the All-American Soap Box Derby Gravity Racing Challenge in Akron in May.

The kits for the cars will be paid for through a grant that STEM teacher Jason Freudenberg discovered.

“We’re building three cars,” Freudenberg said. “These cars have to come from the Soap Box Derby, and they are $500 a piece.”

So when Freudenberg saw that the Turning Foundation, a nonprofit group in Youngstown that’s an arm of Turning Technologies, was offering Innovative Teacher Mini-Grants to Mahoning Valley educators, he applied.

Fredenberg’s proposal was for 30 class members to build the three “super stock cars” for the Soap-Box Derby competition that brings teams from around the county.

“Using problem solving and critical thinking, teams will work on skill development in geometry, simple machines, gravity, energy, and data collection all around a theme of project-based learning,” Freudenberg wrote in his proposal.

The Turning Foundation announced this fall that the STEM program would receive a $1,500 grant.

For students, excite- ment about the Soap Box Derby grew even as they worked on other projects including windmill generators made out of cereal boxes and Styrofoam and structure design using design software.

“The [STEM] program is fun,” said Nathan Spalding. “I want to stay in through high school and go to MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology].”

The Soap Box Derby is a part of a new way of learning for the students, with no textbooks and very little of the traditional classroom agendas.

“As opposed to the normal classroom feeling, we do more hands-on projects,” said student Neil Truslow. “I think it’s a cool experience because we can have young adult conversations.”

The students get into the program by applying online and going through an interview process with Freudenberg and the other STEM teacher, Danielle Chine, along with submitting letters of recommendation.

“It’s about real-world application, not just in the classroom,” Chine said.

To learn more about the STEM program, visit the website — run by the 7th graders — at

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