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Miami Middle Schoolers Hope To Repeat Success In Engineering Contest

Rachel Morello / WLRN

Improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is widely considered critical for today’s students. They’ll face challenges of urban life some contemporary leaders are just beginning to understand.

The "E" in STEM is a key component of Future City, a national contest that challenges students to imagine, design and build cities of the future. A team of 11 seventh graders at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Miami is preparing for their local competition.

The last two St. Thomas teams won first place in the Miami region, earning them a spot at the National Finals in Washington, D.C. Last year, members of the award-winning squad got to meet President Obama.

This year's team presented some of its ideas to a group of engineers visiting from around the world on Wednesday. Students imagined cars that drive underground, solar panels that trade places with wind turbines by night, and a sophisticated system of elevated mass transit.

Thea Sahr is one of the people who runs Future City. She says middle school is the ideal time to get kids thinking this way because that’s when they start losing interest in math and science.

“It’s our hypothesis that engineering is kind of the gateway," Sahr says. "It can be the piece that becomes the motivator to stay involved in science.”

Ana Portela, a science teacher at St. Thomas, uses Future City to help her students develop an engineering mindset.

“It really expands their minds, and that’s mostly what I want to get out of them," Portela says. "Not only to become better students and better adults, but also to expand their minds on the possibilities.”

Portela's St. Thomas team will present their version of the future at the Miami regional competition in January.