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Watch now: Peep No Mo' bathroom stall gap fix wins statewide design challenge for Kingsport freshman

KINGSPORT — Ever think about how the inch or so gaps at the sides of some bathroom stall doors could cause privacy and/or safety concerns?

Fear not.

The Peep No Mo’ — designed by a Kingsport high school freshman and aspiring engineer — is a solution to cover that gap.

The invention finished first in a “Shark Tank”-style contest involving students from across the Volunteer State. The inventor, who plans an engineering career, has plans for it to become patented and a real “social enterprise” product.

The student, 15-year-old Rylee Adams, won the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN) 2020-21 Design Challenge virtually, as announced April 21.

She was subsequently recognized in a virtual Tennessee STEM Innovation Summit May 20. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.


Privacy, Please! is the name of Rylee’s company.

It has the sustainable development goal of gender equality. The problem addressed was the size of the gap between the bathroom door and bathroom stall and an increase in gender neutrality.

“The Peep No Mo’ is a prototype for a portable stall gap cover to protect one’s privacy and safety while using public restrooms,” according to a description of the invention from Kingsport City Schools.

“Right now, we’re planning on modifying that and then getting a patent,” Rylee said Tuesday in a phone interview with the Times News, although she said she doesn’t know how long that might take. “We’re planning on doing it as soon as possible.”

D-B EXCEL teachers Antonia Andinolfi and Sara Leimkuhler helped Rylee and other D-B EXCEL students in the design challenge.

“She’s already working on a second version,” Andinolfi said Wednesday. “With the improvements we’re talking about, I think she will have a good shot” at getting a patent.

Rylee said the prototype is mostly plastic with an anti-microbial cloth where it touches surfaces.


“Students in Ms. Adinolfi’s STEM classes investigated a global problem, aligned with one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, pitched their product/service, wrote a business plan and pitched their idea for their social enterprise to a panel of judges,” Hyche said at the May 10 BOE presentation to Rylee.

“I came up with it mostly on my own,” Rylee said, adding that her mother, Niki Adams, helped a bit with the concept. “Public restrooms have always made me uncomfortable. I thought it would make a good invention.”

The state-winning project started out as a class project assigned by Adinolfi before the statewide design challenge was announced. Rylee’s win was based on an in-person panel of judges viewing her presentation in Kingsport and then answering some local judges questions about it. That was at the school level.

A pitch by Rylee, videoed by Leimkuhler, got Rylee through the regional competition, and she won state after a Zoom presentation and questions answered from a statewide judging panel, Adinolfi said.


“I had actually never hear of ‘Shark Tank’ until the project was introduced by our teacher,” Rylee said. “I watched a couple of episodes.”

She said the biggest difference between her experience and the show is that the judges didn’t ask as many questions as ones on the show do.

The video of Rylee presented at the regional competition is available in the online version of this article.

“I think that I want to go into some kind of engineering,” Rylee said. “I’m not sure exactly what kind.”

The design challenge “encourages Tennessee students to design a business plan and pitch for a social enterprise,” school board member Eric Hyche explained during the May 10 school board meeting where Rylee was honored.

“Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better. Like traditional businesses they aim to make a profit, but it’s what they do with their profits that set them apart — reinvesting or donating them to create positive social change. It’s business for good and when they profit, society profits,” Hyche said.

For more information on the design challenge in general, go online to https://www.tsin.org/challenge.

In honor of Memorial Day, Eastman Chemical Co. erected small U.S. flags and 27 signs with the names of team members along Wilcox Drive, commemorating those who gave their lives in the line of duty. The names are of former Eastman employees who were killed in action or are missing in action. The flags and signs will remain through June 2.

Vets return to Memorial Day traditions as pandemic eases

BOSTON — A pair of military veterans navigate the hilly, meandering paths in a historic cemetery in Boston, searching out soldiers’ graves and planting American flags in front of them.

About 10 miles away, scores of other veterans and volunteers do the same, placing more than 37,000 small flags on the downtown Boston Common — a sea of red, white and blue meant to symbolize all the Massachusetts soldiers killed in battle since the Revolutionary War. It’s an annual tradition that returns in full this year after being significantly scaled back in 2020 because of the pandemic.

In Boston and elsewhere, this holiday weekend will feel something closer to Memorial Days of old, as COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted in many places.

“This Memorial Day almost has a different, better feeling to it,” said Craig DeOld, a 50-year-old retired captain in the Army Reserve, as he took a breather from his flag duties at the Fairview Cemetery earlier this week. “We’re breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve overcome another struggle, but we’re also now able to return to what this holiday is all about — remembering our fallen comrades.”

Around the nation, Americans will be able to pay tribute to fallen troops in ways that were impossible last year, when virus restrictions were in effect in many places. It will also be a time to remember the tens of thousands of veterans who died from COVID-19 and recommit to vaccinating those who remain reluctant.

Art delaCruz, a 53-year-old retired Navy commander in Los Angeles leads the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination, said his group has been encouraging inoculated veterans to volunteer at vaccine sites to dispel myths and help assuage concerns, many of which are also shared by current service members.

“We understand it’s a personal choice, so we try to meet people where they are,” said delaCruz, who is also president of Team Rubicon, a disaster-response nonprofit made up of military veterans.

There’s no definitive tally for coronavirus deaths or vaccinations among American military vets, but Department of Veterans Affairs data shows more than 12,000 have died and more than 2.5 million have been inoculated against COVID-19 out of the roughly 9 million veterans enrolled in the agency’s programs.

The isolation of the pandemic has also been particularly hard on veterans, many of whom depend on kinship with fellow service members to cope with wartime trauma, says Jeremy Butler, a 47-year-old Navy Reserve officer in New York who heads the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“We’re reuniting now, but it’s been an extremely challenging year,” he said. “To have those connections cut off — the counseling sessions, the VA appointments, social events with other vets — those are so important to maintaining mental health.”

But for the families of veterans who survived the horrors of war, only to be felled by COVID-19, Memorial Day can reopen barely healed wounds.

In western Massachusetts, Susan Kenney says the death of her 78-year-old father last April from the virus still remains raw.

Charles Lowell, an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War, was among 76 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who died in one of America’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks last year in a long-term care facility. A memorial service was held at the home earlier this week, and the names of residents who died over the past calendar year were read aloud.

Kenney, who has been a vocal advocate for reforming the troubled home, says there are still lingering questions about who else should be held accountable, even as top officials at the state-run facility face criminal negligence and abuse charges and federal and state agencies launch investigations.

“I’ve been reliving this for a whole year,” she said. “At every milestone. Veterans Day. His birthday. His death anniversary. Everything is a constant reminder of what happened. It’s so painful to think about.”

For other families, Memorial Day will be as it ever was, a day to remember loved ones killed in war.

In Virginia, Willie Ransom, a 74-year-old Vietnam War vet, said his family will hold a modest service at the grave of his youngest son.

Air Force Maj. Charles Ransom was among eight U.S. airmen killed in Afghanistan when an Afghan military pilot opened fire at the Kabul airport in 2011. The American Legion post in Midlothian, Virginia, that the elder Ransom once helped lead is now named in his honor.

The Powhatan resident says a silver lining this year is that the country is poised to end the war that claimed his 31-year-old son and the lives of more than 2,200 other American fighters. President Joe Biden has promised to end the nation’s longest conflict by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that launched the war.

“It’s the best decision we could make,” Ransom said. “It’s become like Vietnam. They don’t want us there. We should have been out of there years ago.”

Back in Boston, DeOld will be thinking about his father, an Army vet wounded in a grenade attack in Vietnam.

Louis DeOld returned home with a Purple Heart and went on to become a police officer in New Jersey, but the physical and mental scars of war persisted long after, his son said. He died in 2017 at the age of 70.

On Memorial Day, DeOld will gather with fellow vets at the VFW post in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood that he commands.

They will lay a wreath by the American flag out front and then grill burgers out back. It will be the first large social event hosted by the post since the pandemic virtually shuttered the hall more than a year ago.

“I hope it’s nice,” DeOld said. “I hope folks linger. Families and friends gather. Good camaraderie. The way it should be.”

Watch now: Washington Elementary designated Tennessee STEM school for 2021

KINGSPORT — Washington Elementary School has become the second designated STEM School in Kingsport City Schools, an honor bestowed by Tennessee education officials.

The Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network announced recently that Washington received the Tennessee STEM School Designation for 2021.

The school, in the Hawkins County portion of Kingsport, joins D-B EXCEL, which received the designation in 2018. The school is one of 13 schools to receive the designation this year and is one of 61 schools to get the designation since the program began in 2018.


This honor recognizes schools for preparing students for postsecondary and future career success by committing to promote STEM and/or STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and mathematics) learning for their students.

“I am so excited to have the work that has been going on at George Washington Elementary to be recognized at the state level,” KCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Moorhouse said in a news release.

“This has been a journey they have been on for a number of years and did not give up in the midst of challenging circumstances this year. The commitment to the vision created by Principal Heather Wolf and the faculty of George Washington is amazing.”

The designation program is aligned to Gov. Bill Lee’s Future Workforce Initiative and goal to triple the number of STEM-designated schools.

“STEM-based education helps prepare students for future success in both their academic education and in their careers,” Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn said. “Gov. Lee and the department are committed to providing students with STEM learning experiences to enrich their education, and we are thrilled to see the number of the STEM-designated schools continue to grow.”


Principal Wolf said the journey to the designation came after years of work.

“Our school has been on a journey for the past several years to implement a project-based learning model rich in real world problems and STEM practices,” Wolf said. “It feels wonderful to have reflected on our practices and know that others recognize our efforts with this designation from TDOE and TSIN.

“Each effort we make in this area equips our students with skills for college, career, and life. Our dedicated staff has spent the past few years studying this approach and making shifts in our practices to ensure that our vision for our students is possible.”

Tennessee House Finance Subcommittee and Chairman and state Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, said the program rewards efforts to prepare students for “job fields that will be in demand when our students graduate” but “may not yet exist” by helping give them a strong grasp of core STEM concepts.


In addition to the designation lasting until 2026, a banner will be mailed for display and a $10,000 grant from Lee’s Future Workforce Initiative will be given to to help continue the STEM/STEAM programs at the school.

Each winning school was evaluated through an application process including a self-evaluation, interviews and hosting site visits with the Tennessee STEM Designation review team. The designation rubric included five focus areas: infrastructure, curriculum and instruction, professional development, achievement and community and post-secondary partnerships.

The program, developed in partnership with the STEM Leadership Council, is to provide a “roadmap” for schools to successfully implement a STEM and/or STEAM education plan at the local level.

Schools that receive this honor also serve as models from which others may visit and learn. All K–12 schools serving students in Tennessee are eligible.

Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz (12) celebrates with pitcher Kevin Kopps after defeating Tennessee 7-2 on Sunday to win the SEC Tournament championship in Hoover, Ala. The title is the first for the Razorbacks after four previous trips to the finals.