Philomath – May 31, 2024, was an idyllic late-spring day. The sun was out, the breeze slight, and top 40 tunes could be heard in the neighborhood surrounding Philomath High School (PHS). It was a day of celebration and hope as the STEAM FTW students from PHS and Kings Valley Charter School joined the Field Day festivities to attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most loop-to-loops completed with a Hot Wheels car on a length of track. 

“I want to show the students in the STEAM FTW program that STEM can be fun,” said Chris Singer, a program coordinator for the Mid-Valley STEM-CTE Hub and developer of the STEAM FTW program.  

STEAM FTW (For the Win), is a program that focuses on helping special education and life skills students develop employability skills through hands-on learning experiences. The program started by exploring STEAM concepts with play-based activities including marble runs and domino chains, then began the students on an educational journey to build and operate drones. Recognizing the students’ enthusiasm and progress, Singer introduced the idea of attempting a world record using materials familiar to the students.

Singer got the idea for this project when he heard of a family in Grants Pass who had recently attempted the same record.  A light bulb went off in his head; he knew it’d be the perfect way to end the school year. 

“The official record right now is 28 loops and today we are going to attempt 36 loops,” said Singer. “We have about 80 students today that are able to help with the attempt but easily have over 100 students in the program.” 

This thrilling capstone project featured 75 feet of Hot Wheels track mounted on a handmade wooden support system. The Hot Wheels car model used was the Mach it Go in blue.

“This program has gotten our kids to dream,” said PHS Assistant Principal DeeDee Collins. “They realize they can obtain meaningful jobs and futures.” One student, initially uncertain about her future, found inspiration in the program and now aspires to be a drone operator.

 April McKinney, special programs case manager at PHS observes that students with disabilities often struggle with school work “This applied learning gives them hope and prepares them for employment.”

Everly Pope, a STEAM FTW student, shared how the program transformed her perspective, stating, “I want to be a sculpture artist, and the skills I learned here will help.”

A crowd of students from all grades and classes gathered on Clemens Field in front of the media box to help hoist the track up to its sky-high launching point; communicating and laughing together while they worked in unison.  

The program has also fostered inclusivity, uniting special education students with the broader student body. “It helps the special education students feel less othered,” said McKinney, noting a marked growth in her students’ confidence and team-building skills.

“Hands-on learning is where my students excel so all this work has created a real feeling of excitement and inspiration,” said Shelly Brown, special programs teacher at PHS. “Over this school year, they have been shown that STEM doesn’t have to be hard. They have been shown ways to apply these concepts in ways that are profound to them.” 

Looking ahead, Singer, McKinney, and Brown are cooking up a way to take what they’ve learned in STEAM FTW so far to take it to the next level. While the details are still in the works, the team can say that they are in the planning stages of starting a STEAM FTW student-run dog treat business that will help fund the program to go on field trips while giving the students real-world experience and marketable employability skills. 

“This whole program was started this year to find more ways to create excitement and energy around STEM. I’m so proud of how this program turned out, I’m so proud of these students,” said Singer.  

The STEAM FTW team made as many valiant attempts as time would allow. While the STEAM FTW students successfully cleared eight loops, unfortunately, a new world record was not set this Field Day. Nevertheless, the journey ahead promises even greater achievements as we continue to inspire and empower through STEAM education.