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Special School District of St. Louis County

Grant Offers Students
Unique Learning Opportunity

Coming up with creative ways to teach students is a challenge that SSD staff members embrace. Jason Hertlein, an SSD teacher at Selvidge Middle School in the Rockwood School District, found a great way to get his students enthused about a year-end project.

As their final for the year, the students built toy trains. “Although it wasn’t a traditional final, the project still required the students to demonstrate many skills such as measuring, following directions, and communicating with a team,” says Hertlein. “Above all, the project required dedication and hard work.”

Hertlein received a grant from the Special Education Foundation (SEF) to make the project possible. Since 1992, SEF has awarded mini grants to teachers for classroom programs that are innovative and can be duplicated in other classrooms. 

For the train project, Hertlein says the students made all of the pieces, including the wheels.  “We even found the ‘logs’ on our nature trail,” says Hertlein. “As the school year came to an end, I encouraged my students and parents to use the trains to practice a few academic skills over the summer.”

Students were able to use their math skills by counting the total number of pieces in each train car and then adding them together to find the total number of pieces in the whole train. “Then I had them multiply this by eight to determine how many pieces had to be made for the whole class,” says Hertlein.

They used language arts skills by talking about the process to build a train. “We had to measure, cut, drill, sand, assemble and glue,” says Hertlein. “Communication is huge in a project like this.”

Students also enhanced their history knowledge. The projects were created using an assembly-line approach. Each student was responsible for making a certain piece.

“Generally attributed to Henry Ford, this concept was a huge turning point in American history,” says Hertlein  “Further, we used non-electric tools from the early 1900s. We certainly got a glimpse into what life was like without electricity.”

And finally, students used their science skills on the project. “These trains are made from pine and poplar wood,” says Hertlein. “However, this project didn’t start with wood. It started with a seed that grew into a tree. Natural resources are valuable resources and that’s why we conserve and recycle.”

Hertlein is grateful to the SEF for providing the grant. “A project like this could not be possible without such generosity. And I want to thank my students for their fine work. I am proud to be their teacher, and I look forward to making more progress in the next school year.”

For more information about the SEF, visit
photo of train
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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