At Flintridge Prep fair, student projects put focus on 'science and service'

Flintridge Preparatory School students put their best faces, hands, hearts and heads forward last Thursday at the campus' annual STEAM and Service Fair — a showcase of the projects, clubs and commitments to which students have dedicated themselves this school year.

The once-traditional high school science fair has been widened in recent years to incorporate activities that exemplify the main pillars of STEAM-focused education (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), explained STEAM coordinator Nick Ponticello.

"This fair is about getting kids to see the diverse array of projects they could do," Ponticello said.

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Inside the school gymnasium, rows of tables were crowded with project display boards demonstrating the scientific method as applied to seed germination, regional air quality and other testable topics.

A wall of STEAM photos, taken with infrared, microscopic and 3D technology, attracted groups of students who used an open period to drop in on friends and classmates. Nearby, campus organizations offered live demonstrations advertising the Prep Robotics Team and Sewing Club.

Seventh-grader Nicole Mirzaian bent over a sewing machine to make fabric key rings for Isabel Pan, Regan Sakai and Veronica Habashy. The 13-year-old said she started sewing doll clothes for her sister and discovered a creative passion that, surprisingly, incorporates elements of STEAM.

"It's an art, and it does take some math to cut the fabric," Mirzaian said, pointing to a student-made quilt. "And it's engineering to work with the machines."

"It is mostly problem solving, from the idea to the conclusion," agreed Sewing Club adviser and librarian Meryl Eldridge. "It's very real world, with people working toward a common goal."

Three tables down, senior Laura Ratliff explained how she and Prep classmates teamed with La Cañada High School students to enter into NASA's Cube Quest Challenge, an open call for people willing to design and build small flight-qualified satellites capable of advanced operations near and beyond the moon.

With just months to go, the team recently learned they've moved into third place and could see their design launched in 2018.

"We're proceeding at the moment as if we're going to get launched, but we also understand there's a very big chance we won't," said a cautious Ratliff. "There's a lot of things that can go wrong between now and then."

A relatively new addition to the decades-old fair are presentations on eighth-graders' mandatory community impact projects (CIP). On project display boards students identified problems, causes or issues of concern and explained their efforts in attempting to make both a quantitative and qualitative difference.

"It's important for the students to understand the links between science and service," said Flintridge Prep science chair and fair organizer Laura Kaufman. "Eighth-graders are finding their place in the world and finding out how they might make their mark — we wanted to help them figure (that) out."

Georgia Yamamoto was inspired by her childhood elephant plush toys to learn the plight of endangered African elephants. Thomas Porter helped clean up La Cañada's horse trails, while Alexis Lara examined adolescent self-esteem in "Who You Are is Enough."

That evening, a panel of judges comprising JPL employees, Prep alumni and community members selected outstanding CIP entries in an awards ceremony. Cash prizes went to winners' charities of choice.

Caroline Yamamoto won $50 for the Lake Avenue Community Foundation with her "Art for STARS" service project, while Lara won $50 for School Girls Unite and Kate Huntley secured $50 for Peace Over Violence for "The Impacts of Domestic Violence."

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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