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A drone created by several Klamath Falls students in an after-school STEM program hovered a few feet above the district boardroom floor Monday night as city school board members looked on in awe.

Ponderosa Middle School student Micah Gaede, who piloted the drone, lowered it back to the ground as his teammates and the audience eagerly looked on. Gaede was one of six students from Ponderosa Middle and Klamath Union High schools who are part of a Destination Imagination team ranked fifth in the world (out of 70 teams) in the Global Finals for the world’s largest creative problem solving competition in Kansas City, Missouri in May.

Each year, students in the 21st Century Community Learning After School Program can choose new academic challenges in the field of STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). They can also choose from fine arts and early learning. The program teaches students imagination to innovation and skills needed to thrive in school, said Bill Patterson, who co-manages the Ponderosa/KU team.

Usually teams choose one challenge, but this team – affectionately named “Wait, this isn’t improv!!” – chose to tackle two challenges.

“They had to gauge how much (weight) they could put on, and how much they could take off,” Patterson said, of engineering the structure.

Tasked with building an aircraft of some sort, they decided on building a drone.

Patterson emphasized that two teams who scored higher in rankings were from Ontario, Canada and Shanghai, China.

Students tied for fifth in the world with Turkey and China with their drone, a particular point of pride for Patterson.

“One of the things they learned, that’s probably prototype No. 346,” Patterson said, after Gaede landed the drone. “They spent two hours building one like that, took off and flew it into the ceiling and exploded it – multiple times before they finally figured out how some of the things worked.”

Through trial and error, KU student Juan Perez said he and fellow students learned the drone needed a cage around it. The final product took a little more than six hours to build.

“I knotched each piece of the drone and fitted it so it wouldn’t bend or twist, to where it wouldn’t fly and spin and hit things, like the ceiling,” Perez said.

“I made the body light, out of wood, and then so it could hold all the electronics and Micah could fly it,” Perez added.

Co-manager Stephanie Dahm said students said she and Patterson were limited in how they could help students, who had to pose questions of their own and study what worked and what didn’t.

Initially, there were four Destination Imagination teams, including Roosevelt and Pelican elementaries, that qualified for Global finals, Patterson said, but couldn’t compete due to an issue of funding.

“This group was after it so much, it didn’t cost the district a dime ... with all their fundraising,” Patterson told school board members.