GORHAM — With foam board, hinges, fabric and other materials, students from Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland solved some everyday problems for residents of the Inn at Village Square on Monday.

Students in Julie Marshall’s technology class designed adaptive devices to help residents in the assisted-living community cope with two common challenges: carrying a cup of coffee while using a walker or wheelchair, and holding a book with weak or arthritic hands.

The sixth-graders produced their devices over the last two months and demonstrated them Monday afternoon before a few dozen residents in their community room. Each device got rave reviews.

“That’s pretty clever,” Mary Rose Larson, 95, proclaimed when she saw the book holder that Sayra Byras, Andrea Castro, Liana Fogg and Julia Martin made from blue-painted wood and brass hinges.

Marshall developed the real-world technology project as a way to show students how they can think creatively and solve problems in their own lives. She decided to make it a cross-generational effort after volunteering at the Inn at Village Square.

The project began in September, when three residents of the assisted-living community – Larson, Shirley O’Brien and Phyllis Jackson – visited Marshall’s classroom at the middle school.

The women described their daily lives and the students asked them, “What can we make for you that would make your lives easier?” From a long list of possibilities, the students decided to focus on the coffee and book challenges.

The class worked in four teams; two addressed the coffee challenge and two addressed the book challenge. They drew up proposals, determined the type and cost of materials, designed prototypes and made the final products.

“This was not easy,” Marshall explained at the start of the demonstration. “We had a lot of trial and error, and we learned a lot along the way.”

One team used foam board, contact paper and ready-made hardware clips to fabricate a cup holder that spans the top of a walker. When the students discovered that walkers vary greatly in size and shape, they made a second holder, which adjusts to different models.

“This one is expandable, so you can make it fit,” Mason Martelle explained during his team’s demonstration. The team included Roman Anderson, Mary Guaciaro and Dillon McKeough.

A second cup holder, with a cover to keep coffee warm, was designed by John Bento, Armon Bryant, Jake Ham, Caleb Niles, Amina Nur, Ryan Taylor and Jahtaiden Ingram.

A second book holder – a padded model made with red-and-white fabric – was designed by Hannah Callender, Hannah Coyne, Olivia Grant, Kate Johnson, Isabella Probert, Erin Ritter, Taylor Crosby and Taylor Sargent.

The students designed the second book holder specifically for Shirley O’Brien, 93, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette. They painted “Shirley” on the book holder and did a high-kicking dance in her honor before demonstrating the device.

“It was worth our trip over (to the school),” O’Brien said after seeing all of the devices.

After the demonstrations, the students interviewed residents about their school memories and sketched them as part of an interdisciplinary project with art teacher Barbara Loring.

Residents said they enjoyed the students’ visit and their efforts to solve their problems. “The kids were so nice,” Phyllis Jackson said.

The students said they had fun helping elders they wouldn’t have met otherwise. “It was nice to see how they live and to find ways to meet their needs,” said Dillon McKeough.

Marshall, their teacher, said she was struck by the excitement and empathy she saw among her students.

“I’ve never seen a group of sixth-graders so enthusiastic about what they’re doing,” Marshall said. “This is a project they will remember 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

 Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]