By Tabitha Barr / Editor in Chief
Teachers usually don’t get the recognition they deserve. But Fredi Lajvardi became such an important role model to his students and the world, that his life experiences were turned into a movie.
He “has engaged, motivated and challenged the students by making science fun,” said the head of Hutchinson Community College’s natural science, social science and mathematics department, Tricia Paramore.
Not to mention George Lopez played him in the movie.
For the last 2019 installment of the Dillon Lecture Series, Lajvardi came and spoke to HutchCC students and the community about the life-changing effect teachers can have on students’ lives.
Lajvardi was a science teacher at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, which was a school known for its majority Hispanic population and the low-poverty income that students come from.
It was the classic “troubled kids” school that usually got a bad name. But Lajvardi saw more than that in his students and focused his attention on challenging them to unthink the word failure.
He started an after-school program that focused on science. The students were exposed to field trips, which led to them building an electric car for a race they never planned.
The success that the race brought got Lajvardi thinking of how to broaden the program so more students would be interested. This sparked the idea to bring in a robotics team and try their luck at competitions.
Lajvardi gathered a group of students; Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda, and Oscar Vasquez, to create a robot to be entered in a national competition against M.I.T. and many other top leading universities.
The movie “Spare Parts” documents their journey through this competition as they faced challenges through problem-solving. They knew their chances, but they were willing to put all they had into it.
“We learn the most when we fail,” Lajvardi said. They weren’t scared to compete against these elite schools because they were supposed to just be a high school in a college division.
For the judging of the competition, they had three deciding areas – the underwater test, the technical report, and an oral presentation. The underwater division came first and only three schools were able to accomplish more than one task, Carl Hayden High being one of them.
The second part was the oral presentation based on the technical report they sent in weeks prior. They were the only school that didn’t bring in a powerpoint presentation because according to Arcega, “powerpoints are for people who don’t have anything to say.”
With that being said, then came the awards ceremony. Carl Hayden High School was first awarded the judge’s award, but they also ended up winning first in the entire competition. A high school that was seen as below average was able to beat out top universities including the acclaimed M.I.T.
Their story sat for months, only congratulated by the school until a news reporter finally saw the story for what it was worth. With the help of that exposure, the triumphant story made its way around the world through news outlets, and then onto film. Three different films, including two documentaries, were made showing the success stories of Carl Hayden’s robotics team.
Through this experience, Lajvardi has learned so much more than he ever thought. After retirement, he started an all women’s robotics team that won third place their first time entering the contest.
“We’ve proven time and time again, it’s not where you come from or who you are, it’s what you want,” Lajvardi said.
Lajvardi sparks student’s creativity and drive to push them further than they think they can.
“If life doesn’t give you a dream, build one,” he said.