Olympics thrive on solar power [Solar Schoolhouse-Imperial Valley]
Claverie - IV Press Online 2004.4.25
Brawley High Students showcase their winning design-
a unique earthbermed model solar home
at the Solar Schoolhouse Olympics in Imperial.
- Three teens whipped away three sun-blocking manila folders and
their solar model cars buzzed to life.
The fastest one out of the blocks, a white car emblazoned with the
word "Nomads," belonged to Ismael Pinedo of Indio's Woodrow
Wilson Middle School.
On the outside, a dash of blue!
A "funny car"-looking blue ride put together by the kids
at Seeley Elementary School quickly gained ground.
At the half-way point, it looked like a two-car race.
Then the Holtville High School car made its move.
With large rear wheels spinning like mad, the Holtville car buzzed
toward the finish line, turning the end of the race into a photo
After the judges hashed it out, the guys from Seeley - Hugo Cordero,
14, and Ivan Orozco, 13 - were declared the winners of the exhibition,
a just-for-fun battle to cap a Saturday morning of racing and learning.
Ismael's "Nomads" car took second and the Holtville racers
had to take a close-call third place.
Earlier in the morning, the members of each school's teams raced
each other, setting the stage for the exhibition of the champions'
cars that ended the day.
The solar model car races were staged by the Rahus
Institute, a non-profit group that promotes energy literacy
To celebrate Earth Day, the institute offered the Solar Schoolhouse
Olympics for children in the Imperial Irrigation District's
electrical power service area, which include Imperial County and
parts of Coachella Valley.
The Olympics included the races at T.L. Waggoner Elementary School
here and competitions at the Imperial Valley Expo. The institute
also conducted workshops with teachers and provided materials for
the science projects.
All of the events at the expo featured solar energy, which is appropriate
because the Valley's got a lot of sun.
There were contests for solar sculptures, solar water fountains,
solar homes, solar cooking and even solar hot-water heaters.
Each contest taught the kids about the wide variety of uses for
Students watch their solar cars zip along in the
sprint races. A winning art entrant (Brenna Murphy - Bear Creek
HS, Lodi) became part of the event t-shirt(right)
John Kahn, a Seeley teacher who served as the technical adviser
for his school's racing team, said his students had about six weeks
to prepare for the race.
While helping the kids design the various race cars, he tried to
share with them the importance of solar and alternative energies.
That was a challenge, as the kids seemed to be more interested in
"I had to stop and keep them on track," he said.
Building a race car was a great - ahem - vehicle for teaching the
kids about friction.
The axles of the team's car had to be straight, the motor gears
had to be lubricated and the car had to be aerodynamic.
Pointing to the large "funny car" foil on the back of
the Seeley team's car, Kahn said he wasn't sure if it helped Saturday,
but it sure did look cool.
Before building the car, Kahn's team did a lot of research on the
Internet, checking out different styles and various building materials.
The team ended up using balsa wood and simple rubber tires, the
stuff in the kit provided by the institute.
Indio's Ismael Pinedo, 12, the winner of the middle school solar
model car competition, stayed after school to compete in the races,
according to his dad, Ismael Pinedo Sr., a security guard at the
school. Ismael Jr. worked every day for about three to four weeks
on his car, Pinedo said.
Ismael said one of the cool things about the event was designing
a car then creating it.
His dad said it's great the kids from Indio, who don't have a chance
to venture out of the city often, can come, see, learn and bring
back the information they picked up.
Both Ismael and his dad think car manufacturers will start incorporating
more alternative energy choices into vehicles of the future.
Josh Church of Oakland, one of the race coordinators, thought Saturday's
event went well.
"The turnout was large enough to make it competitive,"
Church praised the teams' designs and he was particularly impressed
with the use of recycled materials.
While the event was mostly about fun, Church worked in some information
about solar energy and used a Q&A session to teach more.
"I hope we can do it again next year," he said.
The Solar Schoolhouse Olympics were also held in City of Lodi
during May. This is the first year a Solar Olympics has been held
in California. Modeled after a successful experience in Wisconsin,
the Solar Schoolhouse Olympics are designed to be a motivator to
building solar energy projects. Sponsored by respective electric
utilities: Imperial Irrigation District, and City of Lodi Electric
Utility District. Visit the website
for more information.