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CA Curious

The Drive to Discover

January 16, 2020

One of the great things about Cary Academy is that the school’s mission is always prodding us to explore something new. This is true for the adults in our community as much as it is for the students. I love how we CA teachers are encouraged to expand and share our deep interests with our students in ways that enhance our learning community. 

I am a car guy. I love cars and all things automotive. I like to drive a car that is impeccably clean, and I have been known to insist on helping certain colleagues treat their own cars with love and respect. For the last few years, I offered a mini-course for seniors on basic car maintenance. In 2018, that passion for cars went into overdrive: I was approached by students who wanted to offer a Discovery Term course on all things automotive, called Motorheads. We studied car maintenance and function, and we visited the NASCAR Museum and Raceway in Charlotte. The course also gave students an opportunity to learn about cars by working with the local non-profit Wheels 4 Hope, prepping donated cars for people transitioning into greater independence from various institutions (often halfway houses or shelters).   

We offered the course a second time in 2019, then I learned about an opportunity to go deeper. This is often how things develop at CA! 

To understand the next awesome turn in this story, you need to know about CA parent Mike Gozon (father of Peyton ’19 and Paige ‘21). Mike was the catalyst behind a new mode of student engagement that began last year, what he called a “learning sprint”: a brief expedition for deep learning on a topic of genuine student interest. We offered the first learning sprint last year during Discovery Term, when eight students learned about the field of corporate headhunting, then helped to conduct a search for new leadership at CarMax.  

In the early fall, Mike told the Center for Community Engagement about the Factory Five Racing Car Build School at Mott Community College, outside Detroit. Two of the most committed students from the 2019 Motorheads Discovery TermDane Fekete ’20 and Cy Reading ’22, along with Evan Wirth ’23— jumped at the chance to spend three days in Michigan building a racecar. This hands-on workshop guides students through building a real sports car from the bare frame up to a completely drivable vehicle in just three days. 

The school made the arrangements, and in early November, Mike, Dane, Cy, Evan, and I flew to Michigan. Over three days, along with about a dozen course participants, we unpacked the kit and disassembled the body of a Factory Five Mk4 Roadster down to its bare chassis. With guidance from instructors, we installed the suspension system, axles, brakes, and all necessary hoses and cables. And that was just Day 1!  

Over the next two days, we installed the engine, transmission, exhaust, cooling systems, fuel system, electronics, safety devices, and interior cabin features. Students crawled under and over the chassis to make it all work, and by the end of Day 3, we faced the ultimate proficiency test when we were able to take the car on a successful test drive.  

Of course, now we’re thinking: Where can this arc of learning go from here? We hope to find out this spring. We’re daydreaming about purchasing a build kit as well as an engine (not included) that we would house on our campus. Kits can be re-used several times, and then maybe auctioned off to recoup some of their cost. Purchasing the kit would make the car building experience available to many more CA students at a fraction of the cost, and in a far more equitable way. We’ll see what’s possible

What we know for certain is that the spirit of discovery and innovation will keep us pressing forward, finding the next way to stretch and grow. 

Written by Shelton Shepard, US math teacher

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