November 11, 2008
Moultrie - A retired public school teacher can get teenagers to do the impossible- come to a Saturday Morning class that starts before the sun rises.
"I'd be asleep or still awake, after an all nighter, working on my music or playing video games," says Myles Thompson, a 16 year-old student, who arrived at 6:15 am.
"I'd be asleep or playing soccer," says Joel Luna, a 17 year-old student at Colquitt County High School as he stands near a tall, red, Snap-on tool box.
Instead, they got up early to go to class like they have for several Saturdays without giving it a second thought.
What gets them going so early, especially on a weekend after high school football game? An energetic teacher and two all-electric go carts they made.
The energetic teacher with a miraculous power to motivate teenagers is Vicki Sherling, a 30-year public school teaching veteran who taught science at Colquitt County High School for seven years. She thinks of herself more as a life coach than a classroom teacher.
"I feel like I'm actually teaching them something here they can use for real," says Vicki as she supervises two teams of teenagers working on two cars in the Colquitt EMC repair shop.
She got a look into the future during a tour of innovation sites in Georgia. She wanted to know what skills young people would need to compete in an ever-changing job marketplace.
"What they (employers) need are people with a degree beyond high school, technical or college. People, who can do critical thinking, solve problems and work in teams and above all be willing to learn new things. They have to be adaptable because the technology in our world changes so fast, you don't just train for a job now, you have to train to learn," says Vicki.
She set out to help students develop those skills by immersing herself in the Electric Vehicle Education Program, where high school students learn about alternative energy by building electric cars.
Vicki sees the program as a way to solve some of the state's chronic education ills.
"I fell in love with this about 10 years ago when I got started with it. It's just so exciting. I think it's a way to keep students in school. I think it's a way to encourage them to go to school after they graduate from high school. I think it's a way to keep their grades up," says Vicki.
It certainly gets them out of bed early on Saturday mornings with positive attitudes.
"She likes us working in teams and she wants us to learn this experience after we get out of high school," says Joel Luna as he searches for the right size wrench to remove a nut on a solenoid.
Vicki wishes she had the same opportunity as her students when she went to school.
"I would have loved it. We had nothing like this when I was growing up," says Vicki.
She remembers class-after-class filled with book study, no hands-on opportunities. Her favorite math teacher, who also taught science, put 20 questions on the board everyday for students to solve. Everyday. The only hands-on experience came with Vicki's hand holding a pencil to solve the problems.
"The first time I saw a lock washer I thought it was broken," says Vicki with a laugh. "I got practical skills that I had never used and I had taught physics for a very long time."
She reads electrical schematics on the screen of a laptop computer like a pro, tracing wires, confirming connections and showing students how to interpret the diagram. For some reason, one of the cars won't switch to reverse. It runs just fine going forward, but it has no reverse. A quick re-check of the wiring didn't reveal the problem immediately.
Vicki believes that if her high school had the Electric Vehicle Program it could have altered her professional direction.
"I might have gone into engineering," says Vicki.
In essence, the teacher with her magical way with teenagers may have found an electrical fountain of youth.
"It makes me feel younger," says Vicki. "I've been doing this for 10 years and I haven't been bored. I haven't been tired of it yet.
A group of about eight students picks up one of the go carts off its stand and gently sits down in on the power company's parking lot. Students get a chance to drive it, even though it has no reverse.
Vicki stresses safety. Each driver must wear a neck collar, approved helmet and driving gloves. She makes sure the seat belt gets fastened before two switches permit the car to move.
Within seconds the car zooms faster and faster rather silently. The only sound comes from its tires. The electric motors seem non-existent compared to a traditional gasoline engine.
The proud teacher watches her students drive their creation.
"Driving it is real fun, almost like driving an actual one," says Myles who enjoyed taking it for a spin in the parking lot.
"Like I said, it keeps you young," says Vicki.
The Colquitt County team placed in five of six events at last spring's state rally.