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Magnolia Street Soap Box Derby Saturday, April 8

This year’s Derby takes place on Saturday, April 8th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Magnolia Street/Washington Park.

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Community Fun Meets Educational Collaborative
By: Tyler Horne

Feats of speed, science, creativity and community. That’s been the mantra of the Magnolia Soap Box Derby since it started in 2009. Since then, the second Saturday of every April, the community has come down to Washington Park and Magnolia Street for a good time on a day filled with family fun, music, food trucks, performances and downhill racing.

In 2015, the Derby decided to engage the community even more with the addition of the Gravity Racing Challenge, for high school students. This race joined a lineup that already boasted a Professional Division, the “Shadetree” Division (think fun, community-built cars) and Big Wheel racing for the little ones.

Now in its third year, the high school division includes teams from Bibb, Bleckley, Crawford, Dodge, Jones, Laurens, Monroe and Twiggs counties. This year, more than 250 regional high school students will participate in the Derby.

“When you race down the hill you get tunnel vision like riding a motorcycle,” explains James Mann, a senior at Westside High School. “It’s an exciting environment where you can meet others, get pumped up and compete, but also admire the other teams’ art and soapbox cars.”

In the first year of the Gravity Racing Challenge, the Knight Foundation, and other sponsors, helped fund derby car kits for participating high schools. These young racers then worked with their teachers to build the fastest derby car possible as part of their course curriculum.

After high school racing was first brought on, the Derby and Middle Georgia State University (MGA) saw an opportunity to collaborate on a STEM-based educational initiative. STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is kind of a thing right now.

In addition to being the presenting partner of the Gravity Racing Challenge, MGA offers their students the opportunity to earn service learning credit by engaging with participating high schools. These MGA students support build days and help educate the high school students about STEM careers.

With this year’s addition of Bleckley, Dodge, Laurens and Twiggs counties, the high school racing component of the derby is showing that it has regional aspirations – something that MGA, which has five campuses across the mid-state, is very enthusiastic about.

“This has been a great opportunity for us as an institution to connect with regional high school students,” explained Mallory Miller, an admissions recruiter for MGA. “I feel that it is important not only for me to share information about the college but to be actively involved in the community while representing MGA.”

So, whether you want to support regional STEM education, spend a fun day with the family outside or just watch feats of speed, science, creativity and community, then the Magnolia Soap Box Derby is the place for you.

This year’s Derby takes place on Saturday, April 8th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Magnolia Street/Washington Park.

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