Amidst all of the current conversation surrounding the quality of education and the hyperbole about the canceling of student debt, if you listen carefully, there is a faint sound. One that represents the hope of a new path – a better way – a movement, if you will.
A promising addition to the mundane nature of the options that traditional education is currently offering our children lies the famed high school STEM program. With the addition of ‘the Arts’ into the curriculum, what is now referred to as STEAM programs are starting to pop up around the country at a variety of high schools and learning institutions; the most exciting of which seems to be the Winners Circle Project.
Using a project-based curriculum, WCP instructors, paired with school teachers, guide students on a journey of learning through every aspect of the process of building a racing organization from the ground up. This includes the completion of building an actual Factory Five Mk4 Roadster throughout the year. The cars then compete against other WCP school programs to see who built, marketed, and captured the true essence of teamwork the best. This culminates in the fall at the Watkins Glen International Speedway during the SVRA Trans Am race in September.
With the addition of Marketing, Communications and Pathways to Success classes, the brainchild of Founder and Executive Director Pius Kayiira’s vision is taking hold. The program takes to heart the core competencies of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, and integrates all components into its impressive offering.
A thread of social-emotional development topics is also included, and workshops are incorporated to ensure that the organization addresses all of the needs of each student. Through shared experiences, these students understand the connection between car building and race production, including the complex structure of professionals that work in a range of different careers. It is significant to note that their partnership with Alfred State College further paves the way for continuing education in its motor sports program.
The Winners Circle Project has attracted a healthy balance of both boys and girls and having just celebrated the arrival of his second daughter, Kayiira is inspired not only by the level of female participation in what has been traditionally a male-dominated field, but by their out and out domination.
“These girls are rock stars,” exclaimed Kayiira in a recent interview.
Preparing to enter its fourth year of operations, the Winners Circle Project is both growing and evolving at a steady clip. The conspicuous absence of the apostrophe in its name points toward one of the most important messages of the organization – inclusion; the acknowledgment that all of its participants are winners and land firmly within its welcoming circle of education and support systems.
The program’s continued growth points to the fact that it has far exceeded ‘proof of concept’ and is keeping Dave Smith, CEO of Factory Five busy cranking out performance-level kit cars for the students to assemble. But Smith’s connection to WCP goes deeper. Not only has Factory Five been the sole provider of the kits since WCP’s inception, but Smith is also held up as a role model for these kids. On a recent overnight trip, the students visited Factory Five, and after a tour of the facility, Smith met with the students and articulated how his now significant, award-winning operation modestly grew from a start-up business in a small garage to become the world’s largest manufacturer of component car kits; an impressive feat that clearly inspired the young audience.
Next they headed off to Dyson Labs, where Trans Am World Champion Chris Dyson greeted the students. Here they were given the tremendous opportunity to go behind the scenes and see what goes into the preparation and development of a vehicle for a championship level race; a truly exciting moment for these students.
The Winners Circle Project is the manifestation of a lifelong dream for Kayiira. Now including high schools in Candor, Waverly, Owego, and Watkins Glen in New York, it serves as a shining example of what is possible, and the ingenuity of the program is reaping rewards for over 100 students and growing.
Maybe that faint sound that I referred to is the rumble of a new student-built race car starting its engine for the very first time.
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