Baltimore County

Arbutus Middle students prepared to roll in Baltimore Kinetic race

Staying after school on Thursdays and Fridays is not a punishment for 17 students at Arbutus Middle School this semester.

Hours spent in rooms on the first and second floor of the building on Shelbourne Road will pay off this weekend as the school takes part in the annual Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race for the third year.


This year, the students are working on two giant moving sculptures they hope will complete the race course that includes Federal Hill, Fells Point and Patterson Park.

The two amphibious works of art must be people-powered to pedal around the streets of Baltimore and through mud and sand as well as the water of the Inner Harbor on Saturday, May 3.


The finish line is at the American Visionary Arts Museum on Key Highway, host of the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championship.

The race is approximately eight hours long and covers 14 miles of shoreline.

Meeting after school twice a week from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the students have created a peacock sculpture and a larger one painted to look like a wagon, they've named "Swagon".

In a classroom on the second floor of the school, a group of kids dip blue and green strips of tissue paper into glue and adhere them to pieces of Styrofoam that will become the peacock's head.

Meanwhile, four students on the first floor are preparing the "Swagon" for a test drive.

The students have been split up into three teams. An art team, comprised of six students, is responsible for creating the sculpture on their human-powered work of art. Two other teams, composed of 11 students, are responsible for the mechanics of the sculptures.

The students on the mechanics team have been supervised by science teacher Michael Guarraia, chairman of the school's science department.

"It's a great event — it's awesome to spectate. Anyone visiting Baltimore should go and visit that event, because it's very Baltimore — kind of wacky and out there, but really fun," Guarraia said.


Guarraia said working on the project can be challenging because "middle schoolers come with limited experience."

"They need to be taught things like how to use a screwdriver and how to use a wrench," Guarraia said. "So we're limited as to what we can do."

Guarraia, who has spent hundreds of hours working on the project, said he can't have the kids weld the metal parts that compose the mechanics of the sculpture for safety reasons. He did the welding himself, which allowed him to explain the process to them.

He also uses the after-school activity to teach students about different vocations and trades available to them.

"I try to let them know that college isn't the only option for them. There are great jobs out there for high school graduates that learn a skill or a trade," Guarraia said. "And they can get great jobs and have a really satisfying career."

Art teachers Maria Calvin and Danielle Imhoff have been working with a group of six students to make the sculptures that will surround the mechanical structure that students will pedal to move the apparatus through the water.


"We're communicating with the mechanics group to make sure the sculpture won't fall apart," Calvin said.

The team members said they're confident their handiwork will stay together throughout the race.

On April 24, the group finished their last day of work on the peacock sculpture, inserting wooden dowel rods into Styrofoam shapes that are representative of peacock feathers.

Clayton Rogers, 12, of Arbutus, said meeting the May 3 deadline has been the greatest challenge.

"Trying to get it all done in time has been the toughest part," he said.

All of their hard work should be worth it when the race rolls around.


"I'm really looking forward to racing," said Maddy Handley, 12, of Arbutus.