Soda can, balsa wood, rainbow paper clips and a paper unicorn — that was what gave fifth graders Ruby Mercier and Ellie Dolby and their “Rainbow Rider” the edge over their solar car competition in Saturday’s race. The pair placed first in the speed race for the Edgartown School.

Ruby and Ellie were among almost 200 fifth grade students (and some sixth graders at the Charter school) from across the Island who gathered at the Boys and Girls Club to race handcrafted solar cars Saturday morning.  
Michael Noell and Owen Favreau, Charter School winners. — Meg Robbins
The event was the conclusion of a nearly two-week long study of sustainability, renewable energy and engineering. Building the cars offered the students a fun way to learn about serious environmental issues. 
The all-Island solar car race has taken place annually for the past 10 to 12 years.
“It started as a project about sustainability, just to teach kids about renewables and how important they are,” said Kara Gelinas, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. 
But Ms. Gelinas noted that the project now meets many curriculum standards for engineering as well.  Ideally, she said, it also makes students realize that “making mistakes is the way that you learn.” 
And they're off; Charter School gets in motion. — Meg Robbins
Indeed, for many of the students, testing and tinkering with the cars was more exciting than the tension-filled races.  
When asked what his favorite part of the process was, Zach Ward of the Edgartown School replied, “making sure that it works.” He and partner Dylan Burke tested their car out roughly five times before the competition on Saturday, he said.   
“I give them a lot of freedom when they build,” Ms. Gelinas said. “I don’t tell them what gear ratio to choose, I don’t tell them what design to pick. I let them do it however they want and when it doesn’t work — which it sometimes doesn’t — they rebuild and then they get why. They get why they have to be geared for torque, they get why the [solar] panel has to be at a certain angle.”
Solar panels, motors and wheels were supplied to the students by the Cape Light Compact, which has sponsored the event for the past several years. 
Each school integrated the solar car unit into their science curriculum in a different way. To accommodate the varying depths of study, each school raced separately. 
In addition to competing in the speed races on Saturday, each group of two or three students was interviewed by community judges about the design, technical merit and general knowledge of their cars. 
Prizes included treats from Chilmark Chocolates, among other goodies, and, of course, bragging rights.
This year’s speed race results: 
Charter School:
First place: Owen Favreau and Michael Noell
Second place: Jasper Zeender and Jorrien Ahren
Third place: Willa Welch and Francesca Robinson
West Tisbury/Chilmark:
First place: Bizu Horwitz and Ramon Dossantos 
Second place: Gabby Carr and Eleanor Hyland
Third place: Noah Glasgow
Edgartown School:
First place: Ellie Dolby and Ruby Mercier
Second place: Kylie Estrella and Danielle Oterri 
Third place: Marina Nunes and Amanda Moraes 
Oak Bluffs:
First place: Nathan Cuthlort and Victoria Searle 
Second place: Tyrone Arajuo and Hope Bettencourt
Third place: Ciara Hoyt and Josie Silva 
First place: Charlotte Packer, Bella Pereira, and Oscar Shepherd
Second place: Felix Collon, Mia Jeffers, Sydney Brown, and Cody McCarron 
Third place: Aiden Marek, Aden Ross, Gabriella Vieira and Alyssa Stralecki