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Da Vinci Center: Where learning, world converge
A robotic prototype flying object is demonstrated to those who attended the first enrollment recruitment session for the River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop. The demonstration was courtesy of the staff at Da Vinci Learning Center at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. At right is center director Bill Engelhardt. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

It’s a place where art and science, media and technology, and students’ lives and the real world converge.

It’s where students apply the lessons they’ve learned from their classes in science, technology, engineering, digital arts and math and come up with solutions to solve real-life problems.

The place: The Da Vinci Center for Innovative Learning at the San Joaquin County Office of Education campus on Arch Road off Highway 99.

At the first enrollment recruitment session in February for the new River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop, parents and would-be students of the state-of-the- art school saw a sampling of the learning experiences available at the center aptly named after the Italian Renaissance polymath. A sampling of the wide variety of learning experiences being offered at the center was part of the presentation. They included a robotic, remote-controlled contraption that could be launched from the ground and fly straight overhead where it can dart to and fro or simply hover. One application of this promising technology could be in agriculture where an unmanned plane could be deployed for crop dusting, Da Vinci Center director Bill Engelhardt explained to the enthralled audience, parents and children alike. This, Engelhardt said of the magical demonstration, is just “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the wide variety of high-tech projects that students are working on at Da Vinci Center.

SJCOE’s Science and Special Projects director Kirk Brown was also at the River Islands Academy’s presentation.

The Da Vinci Center is a learning facility on the campus of the Office of Education which serves students in the Venture Academy charter school who are also enrolled in ROP (Regional and Occupational Program).

“From time to time, even kids from other (school) districts and counties come and take the robotics classes that we offer,” said SJCOE energy coordinator Barry Scott.

There are summer classes and daily classes offered which are open to these students, he said. However, most of the students at the center are from the county’s Venture Academy as well as the Sports Academy, another charter school of SJCOE.

The number of innovative learning offered at Da Vinci Center has been growing every year since it opened 10 years ago, Scott said.

Engelhardt told the would-be students of River Islands Academy they will be more than happy to welcome them to the center.

“We’re excited to have you come out and play with our toys. Stop by and we’ll show you more things,” he said.

With Engelhardt and Brown helping in the demonstrations were Nathan Ahmed, a graduate of Venture Academy, and his sister Adriah Ahmed, who is a student at the academy. It was Nathan who handled the remote that controlled the flying contraption that delighted the audience young and old alike. He now works as an instructional aide at Venture Academy.

Among the learning projects that students can take part hands-on at Da Vinci include robotics, digital electronics, reverse engineering, graphic arts and video production.

The center has also developed partnerships with members of the business community to enhance the students’ learning experiences beyond the classroom through internships, mentoring and field trips. Among these business partners are Apple Inc., PG&E, Altamont Commuter Express, and the American Red Cross.

To find out more about Da Vinci Learning Center, visit the San Joaquin County Office of Education web site at