Gentry Middle School students presented a $745 check to Victory Junction Camp recently from the proceeds from a Pinewood Derby.
Over the past 11 years Gentry students have raised and donated more than $37,000 to the Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, according to school officials.
The money raised was part of the culminating activity for an interdisciplinary unit called Rev Up Your Learning in which teams of students build cars and compete in a Pinewood Derby.
Rev Up Your Learning was inspired by Victory Junction’s motto: “Rev Up Your Heart.” The needs of the children attending the racing-themed camp inspired the philanthropic component of raising money.
“Not only did we have fun, but we raised money so a kid with special needs could also have the experience we have everyday,” said Gentry student Cynthia Chaire.
Much like NASCAR, students sought sponsorships for their car to raise money. Decals with the sponsor’s names were then created and advertised on each car.
Seventh-grade science teacher Jamie Mosley explained that the Rev Up Your Learning unit began as a science lesson involving force, motion and how to sustain speed. It quickly expanded to become an integrated unit that exemplifies science, technology, engineering, and mathematics’ best practices at Gentry Middle School.
“Pit crews” of small groups of students worked together to design and build derby race cars that demonstrated their understanding of force and motion.
Student Sadie Hayes was excited because she “got to make up our own team name, car, style and design.”
Math teachers Wendie Gwynn, Crystal Hill, and Jennifer Allen said they noticed early on how engaged and excited students were and began having students record and analyze their car’s performance. Continuing to use the momentum surrounding the Derby, the math department soon connected ratio, proportion and scale model concepts to the student’s work on pinewood cars.
Melissa Whitfield explained that the unit presented the perfect opportunity to study the scientific revolution in social studies. Students explored when and why the scientific method was developed.
Language art classes created infographics on charities and became aware of the “Power of One” as a catalyst for change. This year, students also read the book “Here Lies the Librarian.”
Field trips to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte have provided students with an in-depth historical background of racing. Students were also able to experience the behind-the-scenes preparations necessary for a NASCAR race through hands-on, interactive exhibits.
An integrated unit of this magnitude takes planning and support from the community. The seventh-grade teachers are thankful for the Bright Ideas Grant Program sponsored by Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. For several years the school has applied for and received funding for Pinewood Derby car kits, paint and weights as well as maintaining an official derby track. As a thank you, every car received a decal with the Surry-Yadkin logo.
In the past, local race car driver Chris Fleming, featured on the former cable TV show “Madhouse,” has mentored the students during the car-building stage by sharing tips on the effects of friction on axles, wheel alignment and positioning the car on the track. He even offered tips on teamwork, good sportsmanship, and pulling your weight as a member of a “pit crew.”
Since the first Derby, local Boy Scout leaders have played an integral part in holding the annual event. Every year, Dave Whitfield, David Haymore, and Jeff Mosley have attended and served as Derby officials ensuring fairness and race authenticity. For the first few years, the Scouts even loaned Gentry Middle a track to use for the race.
Now, the school has its own official track. Two years ago, the mechatronics class taught by Doug Slate at Surry Community college added an electronic, lighted motion sensor to the finish line on the track as part of their class requirements. The track improvements ensure race winners are correctly identified. This semester, the mechatronics class is working to create an electronic start.
The Derby has even provided an opportunity for Deputy Travis Sechrist, school resource officer, to build strong relationships with Gentry’s students. After each round of the competition, one team of students was chosen to compete against his pinewood car modeled after his cruiser.
Dr. Travis Reeves, county superintendent, made surprise appearances in order to challenge the winner of the Derby.
Sadie Hayes recalled that when he came, “it was really loud … with cheers, waves, excitement, laughter, and smiles.”
Dr. Reeves brought his own pinewood car and used the event to reiterate the importance of perseverance and teamwork.
Students are motivated every year to not only create the best Pinewood derby car they can but to raise as much money as possible to send a child with a serious medical condition to Victory Junction Camp.
Wendy Carriker, chair of the Mount Airy Board of Education and a local camp volunteer, has visited local students each year to educate them on the importance of Victory Junction, the needs of the campers, and how their donations will be used.
On the day of the derby, Carriker returned to accept the students’ donation check on behalf of the camp and to thank the students for their gift.
Over the past 11 years, the Derby has grown to be as much as a service project as an educational unit of study. It provides students with an opportunity to learn real-world lessons, to practice working together to achieve a goal, to show kindness in helping others, and to be active members of the community.
These are life lessons that the students will never forget. “I think I speak for the whole seventh-grade student body when I say that this derby has given us an experience of a lifetime,” said Chaire.