On a recent Wednesday afternoon, teacher Sandra Starr’s classroom at Tokay High School was humming with activity.
Excited students broke into several groups and gathered around laptops, smartphones and arrays of circuit boards and wires. A few energetic souls flitted from one group to the next, checking on each team’s progress.
They weren’t doing it for a class. Several of the students don’t even attend Tokay High — they were working visitors from Lodi High and Lodi Middle schools.
Instead, the group of volunteers was giving up their afternoon to put the finishing touches on organizing the NorCal Science Festival, a one-day extravaganza of technology, chemistry, engineering and other scientific demonstrations.
“I feel like we’ll be ready,” Tokay senior Jessica Cunningham said confidently.
The one-day NorCal Science Festival was first held in 2016, when former Tokay student Julie Fukunaga worked with Starr and other students to create the event.
It grew out of Fukunaga’s selection as a Bezos Scholar at the Aspen Institute; students are encouraged to return home and create a “local ideas festival” with one of their teachers.
The festival puts the spotlight on tech like robotics, 3-D printers and pens, circuitry and more. This year’s event will include a chemistry magic show put on by a team from University of the Pacific, a NASA ambassador and a paper airplane designer who has won recognition in the hobby.
Since then, the festival has been student-organized, giving it a family-friendly focus. It also relies on volunteers from all of Lodi’s high schools, University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College, and the surrounding community.
In Starr’s classroom on Wednesday, huddled under posters about invasive species, industrial agriculture and the state’s water cycle, two groups of students were putting together volunteer sign-up forms using Google Sheets. The forms will be sent out to teachers throughout Lodi so they can recruit students to work at the festival.
Volunteers will run booths showcasing 3D pens and Ozobots, little robots that detect colors and shapes and can follow a path drawn with marker. Other students will work with Kaiser volunteers on a booth showcasing anatomy and medicine, help attendees make science-themed buttons, and more.
“We also made a form for the day of, so teachers can have proof their students volunteered,” Tokay senior Jasmin Gill said.
Student organizers from Lodi and Tokay high schools will also be responsible for teaching each of the student volunteers how to run the tech they’ll be showing off to the community.
“We’ll have certain trainings based on each event,” said Grace Salazer, a junior at Lodi High.
They’re hoping for a good turnout — and there are reasons to volunteer.
The students heard that last year, one of their classmates even got an internship thanks to connections made while volunteering at the festival, said Amelia Ellison, a junior at Lodi High.
At another table, a group of teens huddles around their smartphones, testing geofilters they created for the app Snapchat. The filters allow people to decorate their photos and videos with logos and designs created by the students — but they’ll only be accessible at Tokay High on the day of the festival.
“It’s not only us taking pictures of the festival, it’s the community,” Tokay junior Kim Le said.
While most photos posted to Snapchat are meant to be viewed once and then deleted, the students said, people can also add photos to their “story,” and they’re stored forever. If they tag their photos, the festival organizers will be able to find them and add them to the festival’s story as well.
“The filters add that little pizzazz,” said Umayma Mohsin, a junior at Tokay.
Another group was finalizing the program, making sure that every presenter was properly scheduled and there were no conflicts.
“It’s a little tricky to get the timing right,” Cunningham said.
They were also carefully checking all of the program pages for errors and making sure that sponsors like Waste Management, the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce, Lodi Electric Utility and others were included.
The preparation is meant to ensure that the NorCal Science Festival goes off without a hitch.
Visitors to the festival will be able to meet the robotics teams from Tokay High, Jim Elliot Christian High and Lodi Middle School. The teams will demonstrate how they’ve programmed their robots to complete a task and share information about the programs.
There will also be a Tapigami demonstration, Gill said — sculptures made from tape.
And on Wednesday, one of the groups was putting the final touches on the Makey Makey — a JoyLabz invention kit that turns fruit into a musical instrument.
“We’re going to attach these to bananas so that people can play the piano,” Tokay sophomore Nicolaus Hilleary said, showing a reporter some wires attached to alligator clips and a circuit board. “It should be fun.”
Food trucks will attend so that visitors can take a lunch break before diving back into scientific discovery.
The team hopes that the community will come out to enjoy the free festival. They’ve been working hard all school year to bring back fan favorites and find exciting elements to add to the day.
“They should look forward to everything that’s going to be happening here,” Le said.