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Posted October 5, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Students create electric cars for fall project

By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- For Physics II students at the Mountain Vista Governor's School for Science, Math and Technology, going the distance is a calculated risk.

As part of the school's annual Fall Project Showcase, the high-schoolers were instructed to create electric cars that can travel a specific distance on command.

The students can use any materials and all ingenuity, but at Wednesday's showcase, they only get one shot.

The project is one of a handful these students juggle at one time. Mountain Vista students are selected by their "base" schools for their academic promise and spend half of each school day in an advanced curriculum at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Warren County High School seniors Sean Gimber and Daniel Freeman are building their electric car along with Millbrook High senior William Artrip. With a little help from Gimber's dad, a software programmer, the team plans to control the car with an onboard microcontroller.

After performing calculations with the given distance, they can tell the software how many milliseconds to move the car.

Governor's school "definitely is a learning experience," Daniel said. "If you have the work ethic, it's a good experience. The teachers treat us as adults."

Allen Burton teaches the physics class.

"It's the rigors of college with the grace of high school," he said. "The kids are responsible."

About 70 Mountain Vista students are enrolled at the Lord Fairfax Middletown campus. In the afternoon, they return to their base schools in Winchester, Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties.

The college's Warrenton campus hosts about 50 students from Culpeper, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.

With increased freedom comes equal amounts of responsibility. The curriculum is tougher, but hard-working students are rewarded with college credit and a valuable point on their resumes.

"We're hoping to give our students a taste of what college is like, socially and emotionally," said Rosanne Williamson, the school's director. "One of our goals is to provide that transition experience."

Students follow a syllabus format in their classes, and are responsible for pacing their work to meet deadlines. Students often file assignments from a school-issued laptop to a course management system in keeping with a focus on technology.

A long-term goal is to expand programs for 10th-graders and add ninth-graders, Williamson said.

Students take two courses a day. Physics, humanities, research and calculus are stressed the first year.

Second-year students typically take higher levels of those courses or substitute them with environmental science, statistics or government.

Wednesday is a "focused learning experience," or FLEX day, used for research, listening to guest speakers or participating in "curiosity clubs."

Rachel Drescher, 17, said her electric car is coming along nicely. Part of her Wednesday flex day was spent in physics, with the improv and music clubs and filling out college applications. On the radar: The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

In the afternoon, she returned to Skyline High School for English, band, and Latin classes.

Rachel said she would recommend the governor's school only to her studious friends.

"I've very much enjoyed going here," she said. "You have to be willing to work hard. It's definitely a good experience."

For more information on the Mountain Vista Governor's School, visit www.mvgshome.org.

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