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Greenpower racing builds STEM skills and confidence

MADISON – Greenpower was the topic of “Sittin’ With the Supe,” a recent podcast by Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols.

Nichols questioned and listened to Greenpower Racing sponsors, Jackie Smith, fifth-grade teacher at Mill Creek Elementary School for 17 years, and Jessye Gaines, Engineering Academy teacher at Bob Jones High School for 13 years.

Smith and Gaines explained the sports’ origins and ways that students pursue STEM interests and develop social skills by participating with a Greenpower team.

In the late 1990s, Greenpower started in the United Kingdom as a response to engineering companies in Sussex. Students needed to graduate with STEM skills, Gaines said.

“Racing is very popular so they started teams with single-seat cars,” Gaines said. Enthusiasts initiated Greenpower USA around 2012, and Madison individuals followed the next year.

“The racing is such an easy sell for high-schoolers to get into, and it’s another STEM source. We have three F24 advanced single-seat cars that we travel with,” Gaines said. Bob Jones’ Greenpower car runs 90 minutes on 12-volt batteries.

Greenpower depends on many students who do not want to drive the car. The crew needs people for assembly, maintenance and videography.

“Half of the scoring involves a presentation – sometimes live with questions and answers, a video with a script or Google slides. We need students also on the media side to take photos and run presentations,” Gaines said.

Typical of their success, Greenpower Patriot Racing won first place with Blue Team Advanced Modified and with Red Team Custom Division at the Choccolocco Green Prix in Oxford. (bjhspatriotpages.com) Greenpower is one extracurricular activity that students will invite friends to observe.

On the elementary side, Nichols asked how an elementary student in fourth or fifth grade can assemble a car. “Mill Creek has three cars that students assembled themselves,” Smith said about the children’s abilities. Families get involved with the process.

“The kids open the kit box (with all component pieces). Day one, after school we take everything out of the box to be sure that we have everything that we need,” Smith said.

“Mill Creek has a smaller car, versus Bob Jones’ F24,” Smith said. “We enter races in Decatur and South Alabama. We’re hoping to have a race in Madison.”

At Bob Jones, the crew assembles Goblin cars. The level of modification depends on the division in which the car will race.

“The Greenpower car will go 18 miles per hour. Coming down a hill, we have clocked 30 mph for our car,” Smith said.

In addition to STEM lessons, Greenpower can boost a child’s independence. “A little girl in my class was introverted and rarely spoke to anybody, but she wanted to try the Greenpower team,” Smith said. “By end of the year, she was one of the best drivers.”

“You get to learn soft skills and how to interact. Also, students learn how to talk to adults in a conversation,” Smith said.

“Greenpower USA awards one scholarship per year to a high school senior,” Gaines said about the experience’s future benefits.

Nichols encourages families to find a Greenpower event “on a Saturday morning to see the students work. It’s an exciting program that is fun to watch.”

“Greenpower is a good opportunity. You can see the kids’ enthusiasm as they work and drive the cars,” Nichols said.

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