MESA Invitational

From left: Pioneer Middle School students Jesus Valdez, Fatima Alarcon, Valeria Rosales, and J.J. Correa won first place in an aeronautics competition, one of many during the second annual MESA Invitational Saturday, March 2 at Harmony Magnet Academy.

More than 100 local middle school students participated in event

Over 100 students from Bartlett, Carl F. Smith, Pioneer, and Sequoia Middle Schools competed in math, engineering, science, and aeronautics projects on Saturday, March 2, at Harmony Magnet Academy’s second annual Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) Invitational, where they engaged in fun learning all day as well as winning prizes and gaining new skills.

With 20 HMA students acting as activity mentors as well as teachers and administrators, there were 150 people total involved.

William Clark, who teaches at Pioneer Middle School, said the original STEM classes and MESA competition takes place at Fresno State University and is an all day 12- hour event from early in the morning to late at night. 

For many local students it was not feasible to go to Fresno for that long, so HMA teacher Marc Wheeler suggested holding the competition locally for half a day, and middle school teachers Myra Ruiz and Clark from Pioneer fully supported his idea. as well as other middle school teachers.

Jeff Brown, principal of HMA, said, “That’s a great idea, let’s keep it local,” and he and his associates at HMA made it happen last year, and this year they pulled out the stops, providing the kids with breakfast, lunch, a raffle, and awards, and made it a fun day for everyone involved.

Teaching a class where students were building pressed foam core airplanes and learning the basics of aeronautics, Clark explained to a class of students, and holding a “jig” — a rectangle piece of foam — he said, “The jig gives you the pitch of your wings.”

Students were gluing the wings onto the plane after decorating them, and Jonathan Rodriguez said, “Don’t glue the key to the wings.” 

He has been in MESA since he was in middle school, and is in ninth grade now, and said, “It is really fun and really easy. The aviation class and building the planes really gets people involved in the project. They all really enjoy it.”

Vincent Alcantar is the MESA coordinator at HMA and was out watching a mixture of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from four middle schools shooting off rockets they’d built in the rocketry class overseen by Wheeler, who was helping out with the MESA classes and club.

“It’s a fun activity for the kids. They get outside, and they have the pride in building something that they can launch, and it goes up in the air,” said Wheeler, who was an mechanical engineer at processor plants before he became a teacher twelve years ago.

Everyone had to keep a lookout, as the rockets were launching so fast and powerfully a few ended up landing in the HMA swimming pool.

Students had to solve and complete challenges that involved math, engineering, lots of deductive reasoning, science skills and technological skills to figure out problems. First were math problems, which they had to use to unlock a padlocked box, then inside the box were components to make a water valve, which they used on a bucket, and then filled different size water cups.

The challenges kept going on and on. 

A team of students — Jesus Valdez, Fatima Alarcon, Valeria Rosales, and J.J. Correa from Pioneer Middle School won first place for one contest, and they said they were all extremely proud. 

“It felt like we’ve achieved something,” said Alarcon, “And I’m proud of myself.”

“I was happy and I thought I could achieve more,” added Valdez. 

“It was a good competition,” said Correa, and Rosales said, “It felt great.”

When classes and challenges were over for the day, everyone met in the HMA multipurpose room for a pizza lunch, a raffle with prizes and an impromptu handing out of first, second, and third level medals with lots of cheering and yelling for all the winners at all the schools, as well as MESA notebooks with an HMA logo.

Raffle prizes were gift cards from Walmart, Galaxy Theater and other sponsors.

Vincent Alcantar, Eric Orozco from Pioneer Science Club, Myra Ruiz, and other teachers helped organize the awards, and Ruiz said there were 65 students from Pioneer with the most awards.

“Marc Wheeler had the vision for starting the MESA program locally and took it over the first year,” said Brown, adding there were 90 students the first year and 120 this year. “This year we wanted to make it bigger and better. Cindy Brown, Pathways Director for PUSD has an agreement with the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base and they agreed to sponsor MESA and we wrote a grant.” 

Brown wants to continue to expand the program and get more students involved.

He said the middle teachers brainstormed together and got the activities and projects going, while he and Assistant Principal Millie Edsberg did the administrative organizing.

“It was a fun day for the kids and rewarding for us teachers,” said Wheeler.






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