Shiprock school shines at solar competition

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Time

ALBUQUERQUE, May 16, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Solar racecar teams release their cars to see which crosses the finish line first on Saturday during the 2013 Zia Solar Car Race in Albuquerque.

SECOND FROM TOP: Solar racecar fans, and teams watch a race between Demo Racing Team 2000 and S.D. Butterflies.

THIRD FROM TOP: Demo Racing Team 2000, left, puts its solar racecar up against S.D. Butterfly's racecar Saturday at the 2013 Zia Solar Car Race at the Explora Museum in Albuquerque.

When all was said and done, teamwork, timing and design of their car are what helped the Bombers from Mesa Elementary School in Shiprock win this year's 2013 Zia Solar Car Race.

After five rounds of elimination last Friday at the Albuquerque Explora Museum, the Bombers coasted their solar-powered car to the championship, where they beat Native Pride of Santo Domingo Pueblo. The 19th annual solar race, sponsored by Public Service Co. of New Mexico, had a field of 28 teams, including several from Mesa Elementary.

"It feels awesome," said 11-year old Jolene Joey about her team's first-place victory, "because we didn't know we were going to win."

Joey and teammate Crystal McKinley, 11, designed the car, while teammates Kasheo Heyde, 10, and Tyus Woods, 12, built it.

"We focused and took turns," added Woods.

During his interview with the Navajo Times, Woods heard his song - "Sorry for Party Rocking" by LMFAO - being blasted on the surround sound system, before his teammates said with chuckles, "Tyus that is your song. Go dance!"

Though Tyus didn't dance with the other kids, he was able to muster a response while dancing in place and did say that timing was vital to their victory.

"If you hold it too tight, the car gets stuck," he said about the solar cars, which are connected to a string through a paper clip. The string serves as a guide for the solar cars.

"If you didn't hold it tight, then it would stay on the ground," he added.

According to Doug McNealy, PNM's contact for Mesa Elementary, the Bombers designed a more aerodynamic car compared to the other 27 solar cars. The Bombers' car, named after a bomb, was lightweight and had five squares carved into its foam body to allow to it be aerodynamic.

"We figured with bigger squares it would be faster and if it's heavy we could have lost all five races," Joey added.

As part of PNM's outreach effort to help communities they serve with utilities, which includes 19 tribal communities, McNealy was sent to Shiprock. He provided students from Mesa Elementary School with building supplies, including a foam core, a solar panel, and 9-volt motor kit with axels and tires, among other tools.

"The kids are awesome," he said. "You couldn't ask for a better group of kids."

En route to the championship, the Bombers eliminated five teams and also had to deal with the forces of Mother Nature by relying on the sun to generate enough power off their solar panel or a battery when rain clouds were passing through downtown Albuquerque and over the rooftop of the museum, where the competition was held on a patio.

"Everyone who has a car in the race, take it to the pit to put a battery on it," said MC Richard Johnson, an electrical engineer for TRC Solutions in Albuquerque, periodically throughout the competition.

According to fifth-grade teacher and coach for the competition Dionne Allison, the victory was Mesa Elementary's first in the car-race category.

"I think bonding and their ability to work together is what helped them," Allison observed about the Bombers. "They worked really hard."

The Chiefs, also of Mesa Elementary, took third-place honors over SR Marmon's Native Girls. The Chiefs include Valencia Begay, Kiara Frank, Amaya Garnenez and Lara Jones, and teacher-coach Brian Ingham.

In the design competition, Cooler Than U from Mesa Elementary won first place, while The Heat from Tesuque Pueblo and Black Pop, also from Mesa, took second and third place, respectively.

The Purple All-Stars from Santa Ana Pueblo won the aesthetics category. Bear Claw from San Felipe placed second and Kool Aid, also from San Felipe, placed third in aesthetics.

In the combined category, which measures speed, design and aesthetics of the solar cars, The Purple All-Stars won first place. Mesa Elementary's Cooler Than U was runner-up and Bear Claw took third place.

PNM's tribal relations manager Kathy Newby, originally from Tohatchi, N.M., called the event a success, adding that it provides an opportunity for tribal students to get exposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

When designing their solar cars, Newby said students learn how to work in a team environment and also learn how to improvise to race their cars, which run either on solar or battery, depending on the weather.

When running on solar or battery, timing is everything, Newby said.

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