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Disney Imagineers in the Making

Disney Imagineers in the Making

What if you could create the next Disney theme park? To quote America’s favorite mouse, “Oh, boy!”

Gifted Intervention Specialist Amy Alexander was excited to introduce the Disney and Khan

Girl sitting at table with crafts

Academy real-world learning “Imagineering in a Box” project to VanGorden sixth graders. During their enrichment class, students watched videos of Disney’s famous Imagineers explaining how they bring theme park concepts to life- not just the rides, but the whole experience. 

Working in small groups, the students were first tasked with dreaming up a theme for their park. Would it be a far-off land, based on a movie, a book or something created in their imagination? “The thread of let’s do something crazy permeates - especially after watching the Disney videos,” noted Alexander. 

Students carrying large cardboard structure

Once a concept was determined, the students collaborated to design all aspects of their parks. Mackson Calvin, Luke Dietz, Phoebe Shultz and June Taylor based their ideas on Willie Wonka, naming their park Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “The theme of our land is that people who have patience with things, good things will come,” they wrote. Of course, candy and treats played a big role in the design. “The pathways…will be in different colors and we’re using gumdrops for decorations,” explained Calvin. His favorite structure was a large ice cream cone-shaped dome in the center of the park that would serve as one of the main rides. 

Each land had to include moving parts, sound, smells, food and merchandise to mimic an actual theme park experience. “Everything used in the projects has to be recycled or brought from home and 100% of the work is done at school,” Alexander explained. 

Through the online platform, students watched videos and reviewed lessons throughout the process. After watching a video featuring engineers, they were able to have a virtual meeting with a local structural engineer. After the meeting, the students put what they learned to use, building weight-bearing structures to practice for the final project. 

“The kids saw no prototype and had no idea what it should look like,” said sixth-grade teacher Kelly Collett. “This challenges them. They didn’t have the ‘this is the A+ project from last year’ example to follow.”

Three girls standing by large cardboard structure

For Deanna Hussein, Elle Piening, Abby Vogelmann and Aubry Zwitt, brainstorming began by thinking about Disney Princesses - and which one, in their opinion, doesn’t have a huge presence at Disney World. Their answer: Ariel. “Our land not only represents Ariel, but the ocean and saving Earth,” explained Zwitt.

Vogelmann explained that when imagining their “Under the Sea” land, the group continued to ask themselves “what should our guest be experiencing?” 

Kenneth Adu-Gyamfi, Cole Gross and Maddox Williams took their imagination in a different

Two boys standing by large cardboard structure

direction. “We thought of something funny and thought of Shrek,” said Williams. Thus, Shrekland was born. 

With Lord Farquaad’s Castle the focal point of the park and guest hotel, visitors would be able to ride Shrek’s House roller coaster and eat at the Muffin Man’s House or Dragon Breath Diner.

For Charlie and the Chocolate Factory land, the group’s favorite part was the cone coaster. “The cone turned out really cool,” said Calvin. “The ride will go up and back down.”

Taylor agrees. “How it looks and how it will function (is so cool). If someone looks at it, they’ll know exactly what it is.” Taylor enjoyed the project so much that she may consider becoming a roller coaster designer in the future.


Two girls entering elevator with cardboard structure

n addition to being a fun and creative group project, the students also learned some valuable lessons. Zwitt summed it up best saying, “It’s taught us more than just building and construction. It’s taught us about compromise and teamwork.”

After months of designing and building their lands, fellow students and parents were invited to VanGorden to view the final projects and vote on their favorites. The top vote-getters will be on display at the district’s State of the Schools Showcase at Lakota East High School on March 29. Doors will open at 6:15.


  • gifted
  • real world learning