Posted on May 15, 2013

Bakersfield: Fifth-grade Students Hold Solar Car Derby, Part of Project Funded by PG&E Grant

By Tracy Correa

BAKERSFIELD – It was the day they had been waiting for: Race Day.

And on Tuesday (May 14) afternoon, fifth-graders at Millie Munsey Elementary school got the chance to show just how well the pint-sized solar cars they had so carefully built could perform.

Students at Munsey Elementary School in Bakersfield used kits to make these solar cars that they raced at the school on Tuesday. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

The anticipation and excitement were real as students screamed, cheered and pumped their fists in the air during several qualifying rounds where the number of contenders was whittled down from 105 to just four race cars.

Millie Munsey Elementary School received a $5,000 PG&E Bright Ideas grant late last year to purchase the solar car kits and materials used as a part of a fifth-grade project to study solar energy. The K-5 school, part of the Bakersfield City School District, has nearly 700 students and more than 90 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch.

Principal Marshall Dillard said the hands-on learning project was a perfect way to really engage the students in learning about solar energy. And, Dillard said, students were excited to compete on race day. “I’m pretty impressed,” he said, as he stopped in, with camera in hand, to watch the races.

A day at the races

The students lined up their colorful solar cars inside straight-lined tracks built with 1-inch PVC pipe. Black and white checkered race flags were placed at the end of the raceway. It was a perfect sunny day with temperatures in the 90s.

The Solar Car Derby winners, from left, were Amir Kaid, Noriel Ford, Jaidyn Witt and Elissa Morgan.

There were several tension-filled heats. And there were a few crashes. Eleven-year-old Amir Kaid’s car sustained crash damage to its rear axle in a qualifying round, but he quickly ran inside and made a quick repair that held up enough to earn him a spot in the finals.

Teacher Marcus Board said Amir’s quick car repair was a testament to how seriously the students took the project and how much they had learned about the car’s mechanics. “These kids didn’t know anything about solar power,” he said, adding that now they understand how the sun’s energy can power them.

Patricia Arista, 11, won her first race after a nerve-wracking wait at the finish line. She couldn’t explain how she beat out the other contenders, including most of her male classmates, but was glad she did. “I just wanted to win,” she said, as she prepared for the next round.

Rene Acevedo, 10, won his first race too and suggested his car did well because of how careful he was in putting it together. “When I was working on it, I had steady hands to put everything in the right place,” he said. Other students were a little sloppy and their cars didn’t run straight on the track, Rene explained.

The winner’s circle

In the end, four winners – three girls and one boy — earned trophies. First place went to 10-year-old Elissa Morgan. Jaidyn Witt, 10, placed second while Noriel Ford, 10 and Amir Kaid, 11, placed third and fourth.

The anticipation was real as students cheered on solar cars they put together over the course of several days. The big race marked an end to their project on solar energy.

Although it was a fifth-grade project, students from many other grades came by to watch the races. And teachers publicly thanked PG&E for providing the financial support that paid for everything from the Sunwind solar car kits, PVC pipe for the tracks, to the winner’s trophies. The funding also paid for medallions (driver’s licenses) that students wore around their necks that showed they had been granted permission to race; students had to exhibit good behavior to earn a medallion.

PG&E’s Bright Ideas program was designed to support the understanding of the energy industry in public schools throughout Northern and Central California. Since the program began in 2005, nearly $2 million has been awarded to more than 300 schools throughout PG&E’s service territory. Grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.

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