E.V Cain's afterschool SeaPerch program helps students hone science, engineering skills

By: Tricia Caspers, Columnist
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If you'd like to donate to the SeaPerch program, contact Don Anderson at (530) 888-6710.

The school day had ended on Tuesday at E.V. Cain STEM Charter School, but 15 students – sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders – stayed behind in Toni Amarel’s math class. The 12 boys and three girls clustered around desks in groups of three, noisily chatting, snacking on almonds and crackers and putting the final touches on the SeaPerches they’ve been building for the last month.

What is a SeaPerch? You may ask.

It’s a small robot, or remotely operated vehicle, made mostly of PVC pipe with a small propeller and motor that allows a human to navigate it underwater. The SeaPerch program was donated by the Placer County Navy League.

 “It … allows (students) to wear the hats of scientists and engineers,” Amarel said. “They can experience what careers are like in this time when they’re figuring out what they want to be.”

Katarina Kratzschmar, Makenzie Robinson and Pheona Archer all joined the afterschool activity for different reasons.

“I’d already done all of the robotics classes, and I wanted something more advanced,” Archer said.

Kratzschmar signed up because she’s interested in a career in design.
“I want to work for Disney as a rollercoaster engineer,” she said.

Robinson, however, had hoped to take a cooking class.

“We went to the parent-teacher conference, and the teacher begged me to (sign up),” she said.

As an added incentive, her dad volunteered to help out.

“I didn’t think I would like it,” Robinson said. “Now that I’m here I think it’s cool.”

The girls were the first to finish building their SeaPerch on Tuesday while the four other groups were trouble-shooting problems such as botched soldering and faulty wiring.

 “The next big test is going to be when they put it in the pool,” said Don Anderson, vice president of the Navy League.

The plan is to test the ROVs in the pool at Recreation Park next week, depending on the weather.

The Navy League donated the five SeaPerches – $169 each – to the school, plus the accompanying tool kits, which cost $235 each. Anderson’s hope is that some of the parts may be re-used for the next round of students, and other parts, such as the PVC, may be purchased locally for a lower cost.

Anderson also wants to introduce the program at other local middle schools so that the culminating event might be an area-wide SeaPerch competition, where students will be judged, according the SeaPerch website, on maneuvering and recovery, design, presentations, record keeping and team spirit.

Meanwhile, Amarel’s goal is to introduce more girls to engineering and design.

“These girls are going to recruit their friends,” she said of the three girls in the program.

She doesn’t need to worry about Archer’s career path, though. Her plan: “I want to be an engineer for NASA and support the 2035 launch mission to Mars,” she said.

Reach Tricia Caspers-Ross at