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La Jolla High School teacher receives grant from Best Buy

Students at La Jolla High School will be taking a couple old clunkers into the future as part of a collaborative project made possible by a big grant from Best Buy electronics stores.

Best Buy awarded La Jolla High School science and physics instructor Martin Teachworth $17,500 for his proposal to lead an electric car conversion project at the school. Teachworth has designed a project that will require auto shop students and physics students to collaborate on converting two gas-powered vehicles into electric cars, photography students to document the entire process, and graphic arts students to create a brochuere and PowerPoint presentation to show other students how the project was done.

“We’re going to try to get as many students involved as possible,” Teachworth said.

The project will begin with the new school year in fall, and might not be completed until next summer, much to the dismay of Teachworth’s current students.

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“Best Buy came out and gave me this big, fake check, and now I’ve got it in class and all the kids are asking what it’s for,” he said.

The Best Buy award is the largest of several grants Teachworth has secured for his students over the years. He first got involved with the store when he successfully petitioned them for a $2,500 grant for a digital camera.

“I’ve been getting grants from $200 up to $1,000 for probably the last 10 or 15 years,” Teachworth said. “I’ve never gotten anything this large before. But my philosophy is that if you don’t ask, you won’t get it.”

Auto shop teacher Ken Davis, photography teacher Zane Freiburg and their students will collaborate with Teachworth and his students on the project. The two cars set to be converted to electric power will include Teachworth’s MGB sports car, the first car he ever owned. Students will separate into two teams, one working on a front-wheel-drive electric car, and the other on a rear-wheel-drive.

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“I want to try to put the kids into teams, in situations where student leadership can be developed,” Teachworth said. “I want them to think of it as two competing companies working to develop the electric car.”

The process will begin with Davis’ advanced auto shop students. They will figure out the car’s design while working with Teachworth’s physics students, who will learn about the energy systems involved and will give suggestions on the design, Teachworth said. Students from the regular auto shop class will also be involved.

“They will be the ones actually tightening the nuts and screwing things together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Freiburg’s photography students will be taking pictures, documenting the entire process.

Teachworth said he will need another grant to secure all of the materials necessary for the conversion. He has written a $25,000 grant proposal to British Petroleum for the electric motors, transaxles, batteries and increased spring system that would be required to handle the extra weight created by the electric conversion.

“If that doesn’t come through, I’ve got some other places I can scrounge,” Teachworth said.

Most of the work will be done during class time. Teachworth said students will be learning lessons better than they could in the classroom.

“Our kids are so busy with extracurricular activities,” Teachworth said. “It’s going to happen during class time. I do an energy unit with the physics kids, anyway.”

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When the project is complete, graphics arts students will take the photos from the project and create informational brochueres and DVDs that will be sent to schools around San Diego County.

“It’s much more than just converting the cars, it’s disseminating the knowledge,” Teachworth said.

In addition to all the other lessons they will learn, Teachworth hopes students from the different classes can learn about each other. Students from advanced physics classes and students in industrial arts classes such as auto shop tend not to cross paths, Teachworth said.

“The heavily academic kids won’t take industrial arts because it doesn’t have the weighted GPA, which I think is a travesty,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll see these kids who aren’t in the AP, high-level classes, and realize these kids are doing really interesting stuff.”