For Miami Herald.

Students in an experimental science class at Cutler Bay Academy Senior High School have spent that past couple of months working in the school’s wood shop to construct their own solar powered electric kit car. The vehicle fully charges in a couple hours, runs for about 40 minutes and goes 25 to 30 mph.

Through a vote, it was decided that junior Gabriel Hechavarria, 17, will be racing the car in the FIA Formula E Miami ePrix race this Saturday against nine other schools, all of which received a grant from Florida Power & Light that provided schools with kit cars.

“It’s amazing,” said Gabriel whose classmates voted for him to be the driver. “I honestly didn’t expect to be picked.”

Gabriel is nervous, but will have a pit crew of six students with him.

“If something breaks, they’ll know how to fix it,” said Gabriel, who loves to talk about cars and hopes to be an engineer someday.

The class of about 20 students is part of the school’s COAST Academy, one of the three academic tracks offered at Cutler Bay Academy. The COAST curriculum is built around marine and environmental science.

The other two programs focus on leadership and technology (iPrep Academy) and global studies and the humanities (Liberal Arts Academy).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.

“Advancing STEM education has become a priority of the United States of America Department of Education and we have embraced that priority right here at Cutler Bay Academy Senior High School,” said Justin A. Koren, the lead teacher at the school.

“Through our COAST program, we have made these applications relevant — and I mean truly relevant — to our students, to their lives and most importantly to their futures.”

The school opened in 1976 and was previously a junior high school, Centennial Junior High School. In the mid ’90s, it was renamed to Centennial Middle School.

In 2012, a partnership between the Town of Cutler Bay and Miami-Dade County Public Schools opened the door for the school’s first ninth grade class, which will graduate next year as the class of 2016.

FPL will be awarding a grand prize of $5,000 to the first place winners. Second place winners will be awarded $2,500 and the third place winners will receive $1,500. The money will go to further the STEM or robotics initiatives of the winning teams.

“It’s great to see the kids work on a project, learn and get a great experience out of it,” said Marshall Ruffo, the lead teacher of the COAST Academy. “But then it’s also fun at the end to have the competition part.”

Once the students are done with this project, they will go on to build a dory skiff boat that holds up to four people.

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