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Rafer Johnson Junior High student Mason East had only two words to praise the school’s elective class named MESA or Math, Engineering, Science and Achievement. “MESA Rocks,” the sixth grade student said. Student Shayla Stepanian added a bit more with, “MESA is fun and challenging, especially designing and building really cool projects. It’s definitely not all about math.”

Math teacher and MESA adviser Denise Dedini said the elective and after-school club introduces students to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It may spark an interest that continues through high school and, perhaps, college.

“The main goals of MESA are to get students exposed to hands-on application of math and science concepts, develop new interests, gain skills in problem solving and acquire information and goal-setting for college and career,” Dedini said.

And there’s also fun involved.

The students have been working on a packaging project called “EggXpress.” Students must figure out how an egg, placed in a protective package they create, can withstand a 60-foot drop. It was a project for the recent “MESA Day” competition held at California State University, Fresno, on Saturday, March 8.

“I enjoy MESA because we all connect with each other with our projects to compete as a school,” Garrett Pack, eighth grader said.

Building the right egg package takes time, Dedini said.

“To prepare for the competition, students worked through the engineering cycle to design, build and test their projects,” she said.

Students got a hand from the Kingsburg Fire Department as one of the fire trucks, with ladder extended, was parked in the school parking lot and used to drop the packages.

It’s not just about egg packaging, of course. Students can choose from several different projects such as a making a balsawood glider, mousetrap car, popsicle stick bridge, speak up (speech), model science (eye), LEGO Robotics, video game programming and a prosthetic arm competition.

Thirty-three students are enrolled in the class with about 20 additional sixth and eighth grade students who participate in an after-school club each Wednesday.

“One of the many things I enjoy about the MESA program is that it provides me with chances to explore mechanical engineering and designing,” Rylie Cornett, a seventh grader said.

Students go outside the classroom.

“I think MESA is great because you learn to be responsible while having fun,” Zoya Sihota, seventh grader said. “You also get to go on fun trips.”

So far the students have visited the California Science Center to view the space shuttle, Endeavor, and participated in engineering workshops held at Fresno State.

Dedini said being on a college campus is beneficial for students.

“Just getting the students comfortable and familiar with college campuses helps them see that this is a very attainable goal,” she said.

MESA classmates will be joined with AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, students to tour USC and UCLA next month.

“MESA is a class that focuses on who you are and your personal interest, helping you not just be an architect in engineering, but the architect of your future,” Joshua Chavez, eighth grader said.

Dedini said the students also benefit from listening to guest speakers from the community.

“Local optometrist Dr. Darol Bonander has come to speak with students about the eye. Our very own P.E. teacher Chris Bouck also holds a pilot’s license and loves to share aeronautics concepts with the students,” Dedini said.

Dedini has taught at RJJH for seven years. The Fresno County Office of Education named her Teacher of the Year in 2011.

“I am continually inspired by my students,” she said. “Their dedication and enthusiasm keeps me passionate about what I do. One of the first things I tell my MESA students at the start of the year is that if they give their full effort to their work, they will not be disappointed by their experience in the program. It is a lot of hard work and problem-solving, but also very rewarding at the same time.”

Students involved in MESA this year: Carter Aslan, Vanessa Berg, Cierra Browe, Evan Brown, Kyle Brown, Rebecca Carpenter, Joshua Chavez, Jason Clausen, Garrett Cooper, Rylie Cornett, Garrett Costi, Seth Costi, Katie Crawshaw, Quinton Davis, Mason Decker, Brendan Dorval, Mason East, Bethany Facio, Amber Fagundes, Daniel Fitzgerald, Ryan Flippo, Jillian Gipson, Karsten Goehring, Luciana Gonzales, Jarrett Hatcher, Cody Howell, Coleson Jobe, Tyler Koons, Joseph LeForge, Brandon Lutz, McKenzie Lynch, Jordan Medrano, Andrew Mendoza, Alex Meyer, Spencer Molles, Taylor Morales, Benjamin Nicholas, Garrett Pack, Johnny Pasillas, Jacey Pezoldt, Regan Pezoldt, Kathryn Ramirez, Conor Righetti, Satoshi Shinkawa, Seiji Shinkawa, India Sigle, Zoya Sihota, Colby Simmons, Darrian Smith, Shayla Stepanian, Allison Trigueiro, Zoe Van Beurden, Ekpreet Virk, Bryce Whiteside, Heidi Wilson, Cole Young, Brennan Zavala.

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