Michael Tashji/Taos News

Sixth-grader Amaya Struck, shown with her city model. Her team 'Eclipse’ won two awards for their planned city on the moon in a recent ‘Future City’ STEM competition.

Taos Charter School students won multiple awards in a national STEM competition recently.

The two teams of sixth-graders were comprised of all girls.

‘Future City’ teaches science, technology, engineering and math to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders by challenging them to design and build sustainable cities of the future. The 2020-21 theme was ‘Living on the Moon.’

The DiscoverE organization began the competition in 1992. Today, it serves around 40,000 students.

“The competition is arranged by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia [National] Laboratories. They put out the theme for each year in September,” said Avery Blair, a sixth-grade teacher at Taos Charter School who led her students through the months-long competition.

“Students start to learn about the engineering process, teamwork and how to create a sustainable city, but 100 years in the future,” said Blair.

“There’s a dome protecting the city,” said Amaya Struck, a sixth-grader at Taos Charter School and a member of team ‘Eclipse,’ which won second place overall out of 20 regional teams competing across New Mexico. Her team also received an award for Best Essay.

“Our housing is underground, and all of our jobs and hospitals and everything there is on top,” Struck, 11, continued. “How we get around in our city is the vaporizing stations, and our high speed train.”

Struck worked remotely with her two teammates, sixth-graders Annaleigh Schreiber and Jaeda Blair, during their daily Science Block, a one-hour lesson devoted to the competition, led by Blair and Enhancement teacher Stephanie Daffron.

“We all had divided responsibilities," said Jaeda Blair, 11, Avery’s daughter. "We all researched an equal amount, and had our assigned paragraphs for the essay. But the biggest part I played was doing the industrial and manufacturing section of the model.”

The girls had wanted to create a single model, but decided with the COVID-19 pandemic, it would prove too difficult to pass it around. Instead, each team member took a section of the city – residential, commercial and industrial.

Competing teams must complete five deliverables – a 1,500 word essay, a model built from recycled material, a project plan, a slideshow and Q&A presentations to a panel of judges at the regional competition, held Saturday (Feb. 13) and Sunday (Feb. 14). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was held online.

“Inside the dome, we were able to produce oxygen,” said Schreiber, 11. “So the plants are able to grow. And the plants also produce oxygen, so it’s really good for the city.”

In order to protect the future city dwellers, team ‘Eclipse’ built their dome from titanium, stretched enough to be transparent, but still strong.

“I learned about a bunch of moon hazards that I didn’t know about before. I thought those were all very fascinating,” said Schreiber.“Moon dust, radiation, meteor showers, space debris.” As it turns out, the moon also has moonquakes.

Other innovations included a solar-powered, high-speed train and holograms to communicate with one another. Also, ‘Eclipse’ was strictly vegetarian, since there was not enough land for grazing animals.

This marks the second year that Blair and Daffron have led their class in the ‘Future City’ competition, though Taos Charter School has participated in it for many years. Some students chose to work on the project alone, and only two teams from the school decided to compete at the state level.

The other team, ‘Apollo City,’ included sixth-graders Ava Collignon, Lili Hart, Maliha Gonzales and Alyanna Archuleta. They won an award for "Best City Layout and Moving Part" for their model, and finished in the top five teams, winning Honorable Mention because of a rule that stipulates two teams from the same school cannot compete in the final five presentations.

“I thought it was super fun,” said Blair. “It was stressful, though. We had deadlines for everything.”

Asked how she now sees the moon when she looks up in the sky, Blair replied, “Yeah, I really see how complicated and complex it is. I really do see it differently.”

For more information, visit futurecitynm.org.

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