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Local sixth graders earn accolades for Future City designs
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Walnut students Whitney Perry, Rachel Carlson, and Zane Ellenbarger demonstrate their Future City of Electra.

For months, sixth graders from around Turlock spent hours playing the “Sim City” computer game – for school, of course.

The hard-work of “Sim City” was just one part of preparing for the annual Future City Competition, for which the regional finals were held in Turlock at California State University, Stanislaus this year.

On Saturday, middle school students from around the state, from the far reaches of Milpitas, Los Angeles, and even Porterville, walked on to campus carrying carefully crafted models of their future cities. They dressed in suits and ties, carrying flipcharts for the oral presentation section of the event.

“They’re eager to present their models and ideas, everything they’ve been working on over these months,” said Leslie Collins, executive director of National Engineers Week Foundation.

As engineers, students were tasked with designing these future cities from top to bottom, from infrastructure to homes and businesses with a special focus on the year’s theme: health care.

When award-winners were announced at day’s end Modesto’s Hart-Ransom Charter School finished first overall with their city of “Serenity Falls.” The win – which comes with a trip to compete in the Washington, D.C. national finals – was a shock for the cheering students onstage, who did not win a single individual category.

Despite competition from around the state, Turlock students had a lot to cheer about as well.  The Crowell Elementary School team made their mark on the competition, claiming medals for top overall research essay and city narrative for their city of “Idea.”

“He didn’t want a medal and now he’s really excited about it,” said Crowell student Cameron Martin, gesturing to teammate Anthony Barajas.

The students proudly announced they achieved their award-winning essay and narrative without the help of an engineer – unlike most teams. It all came down to simple teamwork, they said.

“We each got a thing to look up and we combined our things and put them together,” said Crowell student Mareena Daleth.

Walnut Elementary Education Center fielded two teams in the Future City competition, both finishing in the top 10 overall. That high placing was even more notable as both teams – like Crowell’s team – were composed entirely of sixth graders, up against teams of seventh and eighth graders.

“It shows our sixth grade skills,” Walnut student Zane Ellenbarger said.

More than that, each Walnut team earned plaudits for overall excellence in specific areas. Judges singled out the city of “Electra,” designed by Walnut students for its Innovative Power Generation System.

“The lava transfers from Mt. Electra to the Collection Distribution Center,” Walnut student Whitney Perry said of the Maui, Hawaii-based fictional Future City.

From there, the ingenious system would use lava to turn nearby ocean water into steam. The steam would be piped to homes around Electra, each of which would be equipped with an individual turbine used to generate the home’s electricity.

The other Walnut city, the Haitian city of “Wyclef,” was awarded for Excellence in Management of Water Resources. The city would use dome-like roofs to collect rain water, which would be piped to a distribution center and treated before heading back out to sinks around town. Wyclef would fall back on an ocean water desalinization plant when rain didn’t come.

The Walnut students said their award-winning designs were driven on the locales chosen for their cities.

“Every place is different, and you really have to work together and rely on your team,” Walnut student Antigone Amaya said.

Walnut team members shouted out things they learned while doing the project: attention to scale; keeping track of time – a third Walnut team didn’t finish in time, in part due to an injured team member; diligent work…

“You have to remember to have fun,” Amaya piped in.

In fact, the event was so much fun that all the participants now want to do it again next year. Dutcher Middle School and Turlock Junior High School didn’t have Future City teams, but students said that wouldn’t stop them from starting clubs to participate.

And, of course, they all want to be engineers now too.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.