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Shooting for the stars
MUSD STAR PARTY top  5-14-16 copy
Parents and their students were out in force for last springs Star Party at MELS Garage. - photo by HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

Learning in Manteca Unified is more than just words and math.
It is also about finding common ground for parents to partner with their students in their education.
That’s where MELS Garage comes in.
MELS Garage is a catchy label for “Connecting Manufacturing & Engineering to Learning through Science Technology Engineering & Math.”
Mel doesn’t exist per se. However his garage does.
Manteca Unified educators eager to get students involved with the maker movement where education occurs primarily with students making, building, doing, shaping, and inventing things without busting the budget rolled out MELS Garage two years ago. Even the building housing the program is low-cost as a former district warehouse was commissioned to have dual service for both program and the enrichment programs MELS Garage offers during the summer and in the evenings.
This past summer kids designed video games, built robots, and tinkered with getting robots to fly among other things.
“(Based on feedback) the MELS STEM summer camps are very effective at enrichment, as we are able to focus on specific ideas or skills in smaller class settings,” noted Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer. “These are activities that would rarely happen in the classroom due to cost, time, and (such).”
The first MELS Garage program of the current school year is this Friday evening. That’s when the MELS Garage Star Party takes place from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at the district office campus at 2271 Louise Avenue.
As of last week, 163 students and parents had signed up for the free program to gaze through telescopes to explore everything from the outer planets of the solar system, stars, and nebula in the deep reaches or the Milky Way Galaxy.
“We had a couple of teachers in the district who are passionate about astronomy,” Messer said. “It just took off.”
 Registration for the Star Party and other MELS Garage programs is done through the Manteca Unified website at
The next MELS program is learning to solder on Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The program is open to sixth graders through adults.
Also coming up are programs on the introduction to circuitry. Family science involving aquaponics, “Making Your Own Ugly Sweater” (programming with the open-source electronics platform featuring easy-to-use hardware and software sold by Arduino), and making your own tablet case.
Messer noted the maker movement also helps drive home concepts such as perseverance that provide soft skills critical for success in the workplace.
“People learn from their failures,” Messer said.
An example of such a “maker movement” approach to learning in Manteca Unified schools is a grafting project now being undertaken as a fundraiser for the East Union High FFA.
Students took orders for six different multi-budded tree varieties that they will then create through grafting. An example is a “Wacky Apple” with four apple varieties on one tree as well as “Fruit Splash” featuring plum, nectarines, apricots, and two peach varieties on one tree.