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Local middle school engineers rig batteries to race their solar cars
West Hall Middle School students Christopher Arbise, 13, a seventh-grader and Chrysta Avers, 14, an eighth-grader, check out their team’s solar-powered car Friday during the 2012 Jackson EMC Junior Solar Sprint. Middle school teams from around the area raced their homemade solar-powered cars in the event held at Road Atlanta in Braselton. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

Two small hand-built cars wait to race at the starting line Friday afternoon at Road Atlanta.

Behind the starting line, two girls cheer and wave silver pompoms. Several groups of middle school students line up on either side of the track to watch as the cars pass.

Within seconds the cars are off and speeding toward the finish line. One group of students gasp as their car runs into the side railing and stops midway down the track.

Meanwhile, a black-and-white checkered flag waves at the finish line. The students are participating in Jackson EMC’s Regional Junior Solar Sprint. The competition pits 16 middle schools from the company’s service area to see who can build the best solar-powered model car.

Jackson EMC provided all the materials the students would need to build their cars, which, were judged on design and speed.

“I think its really cool, and we spent about two or three weeks on this. So we spent a lot of time making this,” said Caroline Clark, an eighth-grader at North Hall Middle School.

Many of the teams used a similar design but some went the extra mile and made their vehicles look more like the real thing.

“They can be kind of innovative in how they make them, what they do with them and what they look like,” said Kay Parks, Jackson EMC community relations representative.

The early morning rainy weather created an extra opportunity for the students to demonstrate their creativity.

“We had to start over with plan B because it was pouring down this morning. Our thing was, we could call it and have a rainout day next Saturday or we could work with what we have,” Parks said.

The teams gathered under a pavilion. Instead of using solar power, they had to quickly install battery packs to their cars before the race.

North Hall Middle School directed study teacher Kathy Mellette said she liked the lesson in problem-solving. She said the project has been a fun learning experience for her students.

“I try to make them think about the future, and the whole reason I like this is the whole concept of engineering and solar power. Even though its just a little bit, at least it gets them thinking about down the road,” Mellette said.

One of Mellette’s eighth-grade students, Carly Harrison, said her team had to do a lot of research to figure out how to design its car.

“It’s pretty hard. You have to try and keep the axle completely straight. If you don’t, it’ll turn and crash into the wall,” Harrison said.

Many of the student were intrigued by using alternative power and the ways they can help the environment.

“I think it was a good idea because it showed how solar power can move one car. It was really fun, and I think solar power is just a really good idea on how to save energy,” said Fabiola Sanchez, a sixth-grader at East Hall Middle School.

Even with all of the excitement and competition, some students found a sense of peace in the project.

“When I did this it actually got me where I was feeling like I could be me. This is something I can do with my friends, and I know that nobody would be there to try and discourage me,” said Devin Roberts, seventh-grader at Banks County Middle School.

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