BioMoto project helps students improve fitness, confidence

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Destiny Belk’s science grade has climbed from a C to a B this year.
And the eighth-grader at West Rowan Middle School has also lost about 30 pounds.
With the naked eye, the two changes don’t seem linked, but Belk says they are.
She attributes the higher grade and healthier physique to the BioMoto project, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative that combines exercise science with the science behind motorsports.
“I love the exercise you get,” Belk said. “And I’ve become more interested in science.”
Belk is one of 64 eighth-graders in the Rowan-Salisbury School System participating in the program, which is aimed at under-represented populations such as girls and economically disadvantaged students.
West Rowan, North Rowan, Erwin and Corriher-Lipe middle schools each have 16 students split into two eight-person teams.
Students from the Cabarrus and Richmond county school systems as well as the Kannapolis City district are also participating in the initiative, which is being paid for by a $300,000, three-year grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.
During the fall, students completed a pre-fitness assessment that included a treadmill, strength and bike performance tests at the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab at the Research Campus. Pit-crew members from Hendrick Motorsports undergo similar testing.
Throughout the year, they’ve worked on getting more fit by exercising and learned more about the world of engineering by participating in a design challenge to create an apparatus to change tires.
Anne Ellis, the grant coordinator for Rowan-Salisbury and a science specialist at Horizons Unlimited, said the project’s capstone event will be held this weekend at the Rockingham Dragway.
“Saturday’s event will be a culmination of an entire year’s work,” she said.
Ellis said students will be judged on four different modules.
The first one will test their physical endurance and technical skills as they work to change a tire on a replica race car.
Rick Goodman, a bus mechanic with the Rowan-Salisbury School System, is traveling to the four middle schools this week to show students how to use an air impact wrench to remove lugnuts from tires so they’ll be ready for the competition.
The apparatus students built earlier this year using $250 in supplies will be judged based on engineering and innovative quality.
Ellis said their basic problem-solving skills will also be tested.
The final module will compare students’ overall health and physical fitness measured earlier this year.
“We’ll see how much they’ve improved,” Ellis said.
Ellis said students are learning how to work as a team and building self-confidence.
And their also getting a peek inside the world of motorsports and bioengineering.
“This is a whole lot of real world experience they’re gaining,” she said.
As the students enter high school, Ellis said the district plans to track them to see if the project has any impact on their science and math education.
“That’s the hook to this project,” she said. “We want to see students stay interested in STEM fields and have the jobs of the future.”
Sarah Azzarello, the STEM coach at West Rowan, said she’s seen her students respond positively to the program.
“They look forward to the fitness part, the running, the walking laps,” she said. “And they enjoy the camaraderie that it builds.”
But the biggest change she’s seen has come from within.
“Their confidence levels have really come up,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.