Santa Rosa Academy Innovation Expo brings fun and learning to students, parents

Santa Rosa Academy students in Menifee demonstrate their projects in engineering, science, technology and mathematics during the school’s annual Innovation Expo, Feb. 11. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Excitement reigned with students, parents and teachers filling up the gym and elementary school quad during the annual Santa Rosa Academy Innovation Expo in Menifee Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The expo was one of the independent charter school’s most looked forward to events when the 1,580 students from grades TK through 12 had the opportunity to show off their innovative learning projects to their parents, grandparents and friends on campus.

“I think this is great,” parent Cody Harker said who watched his son Jackson show off his Rube Goldberg project of falling dominoes that turn on a light. “I think this is good to get kids interested in science at this level of critical thinking, especially at this young age.”

Upon entering the school grounds smiling uniformed students greeted the guests with a smile and an occasional handshake offering directions to the various exhibits on the grounds. The gym was filled with hundreds of busy students from kindergartners to the high school seniors, each student showing off their projects or working as teams guiding their younger classmates and some parents working or showing how their projects evolved.

The students, or their parents, held a check-off sheet. They talked with visitors, who then signed the check-off sheet, and shared what they learned. A completed check-off sheet could be traded for special treats, including a day without wearing their required SRA uniform and other privileges.

Eighth grader Elizabeth Perez waited anxiously to get a signature on her check off sheet from sixth and seventh grade language arts teacher Emily Roberts after telling her what she learned about a philosopher who wrote about the value of peace and love for fellow man.

Across from the language arts student project table was the 11-member robotics class with its Drag Bot track, a major attraction for the other students who were able to race the class’s radio-controlled race cars with controllers in hand. Participants received a class-made key chain. Explaining the rules was senior Julia Ramsey.

“We made the cars and the track,” Ramsey said. “Want to try it?”

At the gym entrance were two JROTC cadets guarding the back door to an imaginary UFO which other students analyzed with the school’s biomed classes. Their classmates, upon being fingerprinted and eye identified, were able to enter the “forensics laboratory” where the UFO “visitor” was being examined. There were human parts displayed along with the alien’s eyeballs and heart.

“Oh my God,” one student screamed as she appeared through a microscope that allegedly showed the “alien’s” skin makeup… Or was it an onion skin? Student newscasters gave a play by play broadcast of what was being discovered. White-coated students carefully dissected and looked over the alien’s “internal organs.” It was both a fun and educational time for the students and their parents.

Students had even more fun outside where they were able to play an innovative “Ga Ga ball game.” In a closed 15-foot ring, student players used their hands only to hit a rubber bouncing ball and tried to knock out their fellow students in an attempt to be the last student standing.

The younger TK through fifth graders in another part of the campus displayed their many projects made in the past few months. Most included games made out of cardboard or dioramas of things like lakes and rivers. They used bottled water to show how the bodies of water flowed. Students could play magnetic fishing games, knock the water bottles down, foosball, mazes of many kinds, Ping-Pong basketball and a “whack the bear” game with a student hidden inside of a cardboard box pushing plush bears up and down through holes in the top of the box.

This year for the first time, Menifee City Mayor Bill Zimmerman, two Mt. San Jacinto College teachers, several local businessmen and a Google representative acted as judges for the student projects with prizes awarded the top exhibitors in each of the grades.

Zimmerman said he was delighted with third grader Delilah Simon’s diorama of the Great Wall of China which she made to explain how and when it was built. Simon answered Zimmerman’s questions about how long it was and in which dynasty it was built.

“What I love about this is all these young people, third and fourth graders, they are our future and here they are doing engineering design, biotech, telecommunications, circuit boards,” Zimmerman said. “They are just amazing, doing things that we don’t even quite understand ourselves.”

The expos, which are presented every year, are an opportunity for the students to show off their studies in science, technology engineering and mathematics, which are emphasized at the school, Principal Nick Stearns said.

“Really, we wanted to showcase all the things that our students and teachers are doing on a day-to-day basis. and sometimes people are thinking STEM but we wanted to showcase even things more broadly,” Stearn said. “The main reason why people come here is we hold the character as high as the academics, that’s the biggest piece…We have the biomed and things like the STEM, but really we’re more innovative, more flexible with everything we do and we try to get ahead of the curve. STEM is the thing right now, but five years from now if that changes so character and skills are the most important things. Looking at people in the eye. Having a love for the country, love for the military.”

He also said the expo gives local businesses an opportunity to see the potential of Santa Rosa Academy students to fill the growing technological and scientific employment needs in the community and the nation. The academy is strong in seeking local business partnerships so their students can find temporary jobs in the industry where they learn of its needs.

The Santa Rosa Academy is located at 27587 La Piedra Road in Menifee and offers three types of schooling, site based, home study and a combination of home study/on-site learning and is chartered out of the Menifee Union School District. The Distinguished Program school can be seen at hashtag #santarosaacademy and For more information, call (951) 672-2400.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at