One person with an idea who is motivated to succeed is a driving force. A team of these people generally produce winning results. Oscar Vazquez is young, bright, dedicated and has a dream. Unfortunately, he is an undocumented American born in Mexico. He was turned down at the army recruiter’s office even though he had been a cadet. He’s a student in a Phoenix high school attended by mostly Mexican-Americans, Carl Hayden High School. Fredi Cameron is a new teacher in the high school. He is an engineer who can’t find steady work as an engineer. Oscar has an idea that starts off a chain of improbable events.
Oscar approaches Mr. Cameron with a printed flyer about a robotics competition in Santa Barbara. The competition is between teams building a submersible robot. Oscar wants to compete with the help of Mr. Cameron as an adviser. Mr. Cameron comes up with many reasons why the idea won’t work. He only has a four month contract with the school. Oscar points out the competition is in three months. He’s hooked.
Cameron explains that the qualifications require a four person team. Cameron has an idea for one of the members; a ne’er-do-well student who knows more about automobiles than he does about deportment. Cameron saves him from the school principal and signs him up. Oscar zeroes in on a computer nerd who is constantly being picked on by a school ruffian. And the nerd brings along a huge kid who has become his protector. The adventure begins. They need funds, so they hit the streets. At first they are turned down, but then Oscar dresses up in his old cadet uniform and approaches stores and organizations successfully.
Next they need equipment and parts. They visit a hardware store. What they want costs more than they have. Luckily, the hardware store is like Tacoma’s Lincoln Hardware. By switching parts and using creative thinking they end up with what they need, or at least enough to make do. The hard work begins. The underwater robot will need to perform a number of tasks, so they need to steer it, operate it, and be connected via video and electronics. They get to the competition only to have the machine fail during their trial run when the electronics short out due to water seeping into the connection box. They brainstorm, stop the leak, and use tampons to absorb the water.
The team enters an open competition against colleges like MIT and Cornell. Scoring is 70% points by the rover tasks and 30% is questioning by the judges. MIT ends with a perfect score, but without completing the final task, which they claim is impossible to perform. Carl Hayden fails two tasks, but performs the impossible one. They finish the performance part of the competition in fourth place.
In the orals, the schools divulge how much their budgets were. None went over $20,000 but came close. When Carl Harden is asked about their budget the reply is “Eight.” The judge asks, “Eight thousand?” The answer is, “No. Eight hundred.” The huge kid, who has a reputation of being slow, is asked if there is anything he can think of that might disqualify them. He lowered his head and confesses, “Our adviser wrote a check to cover final expenses.” With his honesty, their fate is sealed.
In the end, MIT takes second place. Carl Hayden takes first.
This scenario is from the feature film “Spare Parts” which I highly recommend. And, yes . . . it is based on a true story. In Pierce County we can celebrate the young scientists and technicians at Curtis High School and Sotabots in Tacoma. Over the last few years the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 has been working with Curtis and helping with their science fair and last year Rotary sponsored the Sotabots in their robotic efforts at regional and national competitions. They didn’t win the big prize, but they worked hard, believed in each other, and are creating a future for themselves and the program.
Carl Hayden High School teams continued with their winning ways. Here is a comment from Denzil K. Solomon. “As a graduate of Carl Hayden High School (on which this movie was based), I am proud to be a member of a fraternity of individuals that went on to develop more in Robotics and advanced science. I have become an inventor of robotic medical devices and I hold several patents and copyrights of devices that help stop suffering, and soften the edge of pain of those lives that are afflicted with many diseases and conditions, that can be corrected by the fruits of my creations. All of this was from the education and guidance I received from the teachers and staff of Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Az. There is no measure of how thankful I am of being a: Carl Hayden High School ‘Falcon!'”
Carl Hayden High School students have become more and more involved with learning, science and technology.
I’m not the only one who recommends this film. Teacher Danielle M. Maze says “I showed this to two of my community college classes because the theme of our course was “How to Succeed.” I had never even heard of it, but based on a recommendation from a friend and the good reviews I found online, I took a chance. The acting is generally very good (I was surprised at how good George Lopez is in a somewhat serious role) as is the mostly hip-hop soundtrack. Yes, a few parts of the script are a bit predictable, but that is more than compensated for by this amazing true-life story. This is a story which, if it hadn’t really happened, you would have to say would be an impossible premise. Definitely watch it to the end so that you can see the photos of the real-life students who are depicted in the film and what has happened to them since the events shown. All of the students enjoyed this and found it inspiring.”
Robert D. says, “Also a great teaching tool. This is a fun movie that mixes humor and topical issues. Aside from the obvious issue of immigration, this movie also touches on the differences in perception dealing with affluence and opportunity. I used this in a community college English course that combined writing assignments and short history searches.”
Successful programs breed even more success. Recognition brings inclusion and fuels achievement.
I contend that immigrants to America hold the key to our future. I have found that Mexican-Americans are hard working and embrace the American Dream. Films like “McFarland, USA,” “Stand and Deliver” and “Spare Parts” illustrate what students can achieve with a little encouragement as they embrace a desire to succeed . . . and belong.