Robinson Elementary School third-graders Kinley Slider, Adah Sosolik, Lillian Fudge and Taylor Epperson leaned over a cafeteria table Friday morning, fiddling with small screwdrivers, plastic pieces, little wheels and a solar panel, attempting to build their first solar-powered racecar.

“There’s a lot of different parts, and you have to have a battery and it takes a lot of work,” Adah said.

The girls, surrounded by more than a half-dozen similar groups at other tables, were preparing for Robinson Elementary’s first-ever Solar Car Sprint to promote energy awareness and squeeze one more science lesson in before school let out for Thanksgiving break next week.

“You have to be very patient,” Taylor added, handing one of her teammates a part.

The school partnered with Schneider Electric to pull off the event, a company that’s spent more than two decades helping school districts become more energy efficient, Schneider Electric account executive Matt Lombardo said.

“We thought the logical next step would be to try and help them learn about how energy is used, so we started doing activities like this,” Lombardo said. “It’s been adventurous. There’s different levels of engagement, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

Some of the students assembled their cars a step at a time by reading the instructions, while others matched parts up like puzzle pieces to figure it out on their own, he said. As each team finished, the third-graders raised their hands and bounced with excitement in their seats, waiting to compete with other racers outside.

“This isn’t different than any other day,” Principal Kati Dietzman said. “Our whole mission here, other than to keep kids safe, is to make learning engaging. And look at them. They’re engaged and they’re learning something.”

Once all the teams finished, Schneider representatives hosted a quick discussion about the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy. They mentioned how Earth has a limited supply of fossil fuels, and then escorted students outside to the starting line for the much-anticipated race.

Schneider officials told the students to hold their cars above their heads for a few minutes. Once the tires started spinning, the cars had absorbed enough solar power to run on their own, they said. But if they didn’t, they also had batteries just in case, Dietzman said.

“We’re hoping they learn a little bit about renewable energy, which is what we started this out with,” Lombardo said. “And then see what solar energy can do when they put their cars outside and see those cars running on their own.”

The third-graders lined up their racers and, on the word “go,” launched the cars across a parking lot. Unfortunately, overcast skies Friday morning only allowed the sun to propel most of the cars halfway to the finish line before they stopped.

Still wanting the win, students helped push the cars along, picking them up to get a little more sun and putting them down again. But only one could earn first place.

“And the winner had a battery,” Lombardo announced.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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