Rifle High students drive to make racing program a reality | PostIndependent.com

Rifle High students drive to make racing program a reality

Ryan Hoffman
The four juniors who make up Rifle High School’s O’so — Spanish for bear — racing team work on their cars in teacher Dave Ziegler’s classroom. From left to right are Jesus Sanchez, Javier Garay, Alexis Ramos and Alan Munoz.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

A new business is taking shape in an unlikely venue: Rifle High School.

Under the guidance of David Ziegler, a group of four juniors are developing an entire racing team and, much like an actual NASCAR team, the effort at Rifle High is more than a driver, as team member Alan Munoz explained.

It involves driving (a remote control car in the case of the Rifle High team), mechanics, marketing, sales and more.

The team exists as part of a program created by Ten80 — a curriculum developer and educator trainer focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Ziegler said he first learned about Ten80 at a national science teachers’ conference several years ago.

As an educator, Ziegler said he is always trying to bring STEM education into the classroom, and Ten80’s Student Racing Program seemed like a good fit.

Echoing Munoz’s remark, Ziegler pointed to the fact that while the racing challenge incorporates traditional STEM elements, such as modifying the car and using data to drive racing tactics, it also involves business aspects, including marketing and digital promotion.

The initial challenge, though, was getting a team with a minimum of 25 students together to attend one of Ten80’s expos. He was successful and a group of approximately 26 students traveled to Mile High Stadium in Denver last September for an expo sponsored by the Denver Broncos and U.S. Army. It seemed simple enough: Attend the expo, participate in the workshops, and the sponsors would donate the supplies to get started.

Although he is a good student, Munoz said he does not view himself as a “science guy” and he was skeptical.

Alexis Ramos, another student on the team, half jokingly admits that his initial excitement was due to a Denver Bronco cheerleader.

Jesus Sanchez wants a career involving engineering and Javier Garay really enjoys Formula One Racing.

They were the only team from the Western Slope.

Ziegler admitted that the event being hosted in the middle of a school week might have helped sway some students to attend. However, the four students previously mentioned all said they enjoyed the expo.

The most daunting challenge came after the event — rather, it might be more accurate to say that the problem was due to what did not come: the supplies.

For more than a month, Ziegler and the students waited. As time passed, excitement faded and students started falling off, shifting their attention to other interests. Ziegler said at one point he questioned if the whole operation was legitimate. The Broncos and the Army were sponsors, “so it had to be,” he said in recounting the wait.

By the time the starting kit, which included two cars, some parts and a curriculum, arrived in early November, the team had dwindled drastically. Garay, Munoz, Ramos and Sanchez currently are the only four actively involved in building the team.

Ideally you probably want six to10 students on a team, however, Ziegler said one would be hard pressed to find a better group of students than the four who typically meet multiple timer per week after class. Sometimes the group meets on Friday — which is a day off school for students in Garfield Re-2.

“They’re very independent, very self motivated,” Ziegler said.

Shortly after getting the cars, all four passed the certification process, which helps the team accumulate points. The points are valuable because all the teams within a certain threshold can compete against other teams at larger events.

Pulling off the plastic exterior, the four give an explanation of the subtle differences between the two cars. One is for drag racing and the other is a circuit car. They have created a website, started doing some social media and are planning a detailed marketing campaign. Part of the campaign will involve seeking funding from local businesses.

Listening to all four students, it’s apparent that they do not view this as a gimmick to delve deeper into STEM material or as a futile exercise of fun. They want to build the program out and bring more classmates into the fold.

Part of the reason for the sales pitches to local businesses will be to raise funds for after-school STEM programs at the elementary schools. The students view the program as a vehicle to engage and better the community, and that is something Ziegler said he thinks people can support.

“I think people want to be a part of things that they see as positive … ” he said. “This is a win-win.”

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