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Girls help charge electric car program

The hot pink seat was the highlight. It ripped, though, when someone sat in it (a boy, of course) and now they have a dark green one. But the Cover Girl make-up mirror remains.

“It looks pretty scrappy right now,” said sophomore Jessica Young as she eyed the odd-looking three-wheeled contraption and its canvas seat held on by zip-ties. The pink seat, she explained, had snaps and looked much better. “Zip-ties and duct tape are our best friend,” she added.

The seat, the creative rear-view mirror, the duct tape and the zip ties are all part of an electric car built by Young and several other girls as part of Hood River Valley High School’s electric car program.

The program was started last year by math teacher Jeff Blackman as an after-school project with eight students. It was the first year HRVHS had participated in a state-wide electric car race series sponsored by PGE called the Electron Run.

Last year’s program generated a lot of interest and Blackman had three teams worth of students turn out this year — including enough for an all-girls team.

The girls concur that they knew “absolutely nothing” about cars when they began building their car in January.

“Blackman helps us through the whole thing,” said sophomore Gena Folts. Aside from the ripped seat and a “very scary” roll-over during an early test drive at the high school’s track (“I still have a scar from it,” said sophomore Danielle Bohn), the car has performed well during the four races held so far around the state. The girls are one of only two all-girls teams state-wide.

The two HRVHS boys teams are made up of a half-dozen students — including senior Craig Dethman, the only one returning from last year’s project. Dethman used his expertise to build a much more technical car this year. Instead of a steel frame, Dethman’s car has a “uni-body” construction that is lighter — and faster.

“That’s in theory,” Dethman said. “I’m not sure if it’s really working or not.” Other technical advances over last year’s car include hydraulic brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and air vents to cool the motor. In last week’s race, Dethman and his team placed 23 out of 60.

“That’s the best we’ve done,” he said. “We were pretty excited about that.”

Blackman runs the program as a club but, thanks to a $5,400 grant from the Lions Club, has been working to transition it into a CIM-certified engineering class.

“I have all the pieces in place,” Blackman said. But the current school budget crisis has stalled the process. “I think with a little creative thinking, we could run the class next year with little or no extra money,” he said. Blackman currently has about 300 hours of time into the program and said he’s not sure he’ll have the time or energy to continue it next year unless he can run it as a regular class.

“The kids are also pressed for time and need classroom time to really learn about the electronics, physics and engineering that this project could provide,” he said. “As a club, they only have the time to get the car going and learn as they go.”

Blackman has received strong community support for the program. In addition to the Lions Club, other local businesses donating to the program include Mt. View Cycles, Napa Auto Parts, E and L Auto Parts, Air Time, Shred Alert, Storm Warning, Andrew’s Pizza and Hood River Supply.

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