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RLA Students Shine - Science Olympiad Success
Having built model towers of balsa, rockets driven by compressed air and catapults that hurled golf balls, a dozen Riverbank Language Academy students took their devices to the Science Olympiad at Modesto Junior College on Saturday and came home with three awards in at least two events.

"We are very proud of their efforts and hard work," said RLA's Education Specialist/Coordinator Rosie Ramos. "RLA participated in seven events and competed against more than 10 middle schools from Stanislaus County. In addition to their projects, students were judged on their written work that needed to be neat, accurate and complete."

Eighth graders James Esparza Monges, Allisenda Villapudua, Hector Calderon, Martin Casas, Natali Montoya, Robyn Graham, Adrian Benitez, Jazmin Lopez-Negrete and Alexandra Diaz competed along with a sole seventh grader, Emilio Jimenez. Nicholas Moore and Efrain Insurriaga, Federico Murguia and Elio Garcia also took part in the preparations.

"Being we are such a small school we did well to come back with three awards in two events," Ramos added. "Robyn Graham received fifth place in Food Science and the team of James Monges and Jazmin Lopez-Negrete received a fourth place in Storm the Castle. All the other students did an awesome job, too. I know they will treasure the experience because they were so excited and took on their commitment wholeheartedly. We couldn't be more proud of them."

Salvador Padilla was the teacher in charge and prepared for the competition with the assistance of Parent Teacher Organization president Reina Negrete and other parents and aides.

A classroom visit on the eve of the competition showed Calderon and Jimenez finishing a tower built of 1/8 inch square lengths of ultra-light balsa wood. Although flimsy in appearance, it was skillfully designed with angled and reinforcing struts as to be capable of bearing the weight of a bucket of sand slung from its top.

The idea was to build the lightest structure with the most strength, Calderon explained, noting the two of them studied pictures of similar latticed structures like the Eiffel Tower to get inspiration. Their tower would be tested to destruction at the Olympiad.

Nearby, Moore and Insurriaga were testing a foot-long vehicle powered by a mousetrap. The trap's spring produced the push through a cord coiled around the rear axle and the cord made it automatically go into reverse once it had run a certain distance. The trick, it appeared, was to calculate so it ran only so many feet forward in competition.

Padilla was helping Benitez make the framework for the rocket out of light metal mesh. A cardboard body would fit over it. The engine or "combustion chamber" consisted of a plastic soda bottle pumped full of air under pressure from a bicycle pump. Students and teachers piled out the door for a demonstration launch that almost lifted the rocket into the nearby Galaxy Theater's parking lot.

Monges and Lopez-Negrete, meanwhile, were using an 18-inch high wooden catapult to hurl first a golf ball and then a lighter plastic projectile into a trashcan. They were preparing for the competition called Storm the Castle. Distance, power and trajectory were important factors.

Other less spectacular projects also were in preparation. They included Graham's presentation on Food Science, Benitez and Murguia bouncing light rays off mirrors for the "Optics" contest, Garcia and Casas in "Experimental Design" and Villapudua and Graham again involved in "Write It, Do It." The latter project required writing directions for a science experiment that were short, clear and comprehensible enough to be followed in conducting the experiment.