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Muir High School Wins Solar Cup Championship

Caltech and JPL Mentors Provide Guidance to High School Team

Published on Saturday, May 28, 2011 | 4:29 am

A team from John Muir High School’s Engineering & Environmental Sciences Academy bested more experienced teams from schools in La Cañada Flintridge, Arcadia, La Puente and Duarte to win the regional championship at the annual Solar Cup race held at Lake Skinner on May 13, the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) announced today.

With the help of teachers, Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mentors, students designed and built a solar-powered boat that, captained by Muir High School seniors Miguel Reyes, Camille Navata, and Arianna Villafuerte, placed first in sprint and endurance races. Their boat topped at 48 seconds for the sprint, which tests speed, and completed nine laps in 90 minutes in the endurance race.

This is the first time that Muir High School has placed in the race. Located in northwest Pasadena, 76 percent of Muir High School’s students are socio-economically disadvantaged.

“I hope that other students will be inspired to study engineering and science,” said Reyes, who plans to major in physics at Cal Poly Pomona next fall. “Building and racing a solar-powered boat as a class project showed us that we can be engineers, scientists and physicists.”

The come-from-behind Solar Cup victory symbolizes the remarkable turnaround of Muir High School, which was identified as a low-performing school by the state and placed in the federal program improvement four years ago for failing to meet state and federal academic progress requirements.

“This victory demonstrates that when educators, parents, business, and the community work together towards meeting the learning and social needs of students, we can accomplish great things, and really impact young lives,” said Superintendent Edwin Diaz.

Muir underwent a reinvention three years ago that leveraged school and community resources to boost student achievement. To engage students in learning, the school moved to a themed academy approach, which offers a college preparatory curriculum combined with coursework in arts, media and entertainment; engineering and environmental science; and business and entrepreneurship. Starting in the ninth grade, all students select the academy that bests suits their talents and interests. The PUSD later adopted the College and Career Pathways approach, also known as linked learning, as its way to reform high schools so that students graduate prepared for college and careers.

Focused instruction, hands-on projects that connect classroom learning with real-world experiences, additional personnel, and meaningful and sustainable links with business and community partners have resulted in a seven percent rise in first-time passing rates of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) at Muir, a key indicator that students are mastering core academic subjects earlier, which allows them to explore more complex subjects and projects.

In the last four years, three of the PUSD’s five Gates Millennium Scholarship winners have been graduates of Muir High School. The prestigious scholarship is awarded to outstanding minority students across the country, and pays for tuition and other fees for the students’ undergraduate, graduate, and two years of doctoral work.

Muir senior Valeria Sosa won the Gates Millennium scholarship this year, and plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where she will major in engineering. She is the first in her family to go to college.

“The teachers, counselors and other people at Muir helped me understand that I could go to college,” she says. “While some people might still think that you can only survive at Muir, there are a lot of great things happening here.”

This week, Dr. Charles Elachi, the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) toured the classrooms of Muir’s Engineering and Environmental Sciences Academy. The tour is part of a growing partnership between Muir and JPL, which last month hosted 38 students for its job-shadowing day.

After this victory, the sky is the limit, according to Muir Principal Sheryl Orange. “Next we’ll work on a solar-powered car.”

In the meantime, Muir’s Engineering and Environmental Sciences Academy is working on the construction of an organic garden to foster healthier eating habits.

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