LINCOLN — Davies Tech junior Jorge Bonilla has a code he lives by, and that's to learn everything he can not only about his major interests, but new and exciting information as well.
That's why the Central Falls resident was so busy running around at the eighth annual Davies Community Showcase/Cabaret, held at the school Thursday night.
One minute, he played photographer, and the next, he had hustled to the Debate Club's table. Moments later, he stood at the Robotics Club table with classmate and fellow member Nate Hindman explaining how the six-wheeled “Zeus” worked.
“I'm also the Student Editor of the Davies' Literary Magazine,” smiled Bonilla proudly. “I submit some of my own poems, but I edit all the other ones, too. I just love to learn new things. I like it when people ask me why I'm so involved with so many clubs. I'd honestly love to know everything, but I know that's not possible. Still, that doesn't mean I have to stop trying.”
According to Bernie Blumenthal, Co-Chair of the Davies Tech Community and Public Relations Committee with Felicia Morrobel, the event is designed to highlight student achievements within the institution's many after-school clubs, and to invite the public into its hallways and “cafetorium” to get a glimpse into just what it is they do.
Proceeds raised by the Showcase/Cabaret go to sending every Patriot who gleaned gold medals at the annual Rhode Island SkillsUSA Competition to the national championships in Kansas City, Mo. And to the Davies Parent & Family Council.
“We also have this just to raise school spirit, and the students get a lot out of it,” noted Blumenthal, who acts as the school's business/education partnership coordinator. “For the ones going to the SkillsUSA National Competition, it helps them with the cost of the trip to Kansas City; it's about $1,200 per student. With the kids in the Cabaret, it affords them the opportunity to showcase their special talents. This is their outlet.
“With the Parent & Family Council, not to mention the community in general, they benefit in witnessing what our students do during after-school hours,” he added. “They get to share in all of their great work, and the things that round out their technical and academic skills.”
Two-thirds into the three-hour event, Blumenthal estimated the school had collected about $2,500 of the $3-4,000 the committee hoped to raise.
In this carnival-like atmosphere, sophomore Sarah Ogundare stood by the Debate Club presentation, describing the items standing in it. The team captain pointed at the plaque given to the Patriots for winning the Rhode Island Urban Debate League's Spirit Award, and also to the trophy it garnered for capturing the “Great Debaters” title at the RIUDL State Championships, held May 15 at Brown University.
“I didn't have a partner that day, as I usually do, so I had to debate as a 'maverick,'” Ogundare said shyly. “I was amazed when they announced my name as state (individual) champion; in fact, I was amazed I even made finals. It's unbelievable.
“When I first started in debate, I didn't know much about it, but – for some reason – I thought it would be something I'd be good at. Debate actually has actually helped me with my speaking skills. I've done better in my classes, and I've found an extracurricular activity I really belong in and enjoy.
“This is an honor, being a part of this showcase, because I know I couldn't have been able to achieve what I have without my teammates, or the coaching assistants who came from Brown University to help us,” she continued. “When people approach me, they tell me 'Congratulations!' and I just tell them what a great honor it is.
“I'm really proud of what we all have done together.”
Just five yards away, sophomores Styles Vazquez of Central Falls and Benjamin Pelletier of Lincoln stood strumming on their guitars, the same ones they built as part of a new after-school program entitled, “Learn to Build and Play Your Own Electric Guitar.”
Al DiFazio and Bill Esser taught the “course,” and the former grinned ear-to-ear as the tandem performed.
“We got called down to the Electronics room last week, and that's when Mr. DiFazio asked us if we'd be interested in taking part in the showcase,” Pelletier offered. “This feels wild, playing this. The after-school guitar class was a blast.
“We had people coming up to us saying, 'You didn't really build this, did you?' and we just said, 'Yup,'” he added. “They just would take a step back and say, 'Pretty amazing.' We'd point to this display board (with every piece of the kit they had to assemble during production of the instruments), and they'd say, 'You've got to be kidding!' It feels good, but I also say, 'Trust me, it wasn't easy!'”
When asked if he could play the notes to Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven,” Vazquez grinned, “No way!” He then mentioned, “Some guys who play asked if they could play ours, and they played really well. I wished I could play the way they do.”
At the Robotics Club table, Nate Hindman explained how he and three friends – including Jorge Bonilla; his brother, Central Falls sophomore Christian Bonilla; and East Providence High junior Dakota Dolde – built “Zeus” in Hindman's Lincoln home's cellar.
“We created it so we could compete in the First Tech Challenge (held at New England Institute of Technology in Warwick in February),” Hindman said. “We ended up getting 19th out of, I think, 37 teams, but we were kind of amazed we even got to compete because of all the criteria we needed to meet.
“Every added-on piece had to be made of out of a particular material, like poly-carbonate, or a plastic soda bottle material, and the only metal allowed was aluminum.”
To make the six-wheeled device move, he mentioned, his team connected a Samantha module to a wireless network, which is connected to a host computer. The robot then is coded into that bigger computer network.
In the competition at New England Tech, Hindman and Co.'s “Zeus” – with a movable arm – trekked around a field, using that arm to maneuver ramps in which to travel. That arm also was built with a container, and it was able to grab batons, place them safely, then respond back across the field to place them in a cup attached to a platform with wheels.
“That's how we scored points, but there were other ways,” he said with pride. “I actually took up building robots in my sophomore year. That summer, I bought a robotics kit, and all the instructions were in Japanese. I didn't learn the language, but just winged it as I put it together.
“My mom and dad (Louise and Kirk Hindman of Albion) don't know much about robotics, but they help out with event scheduling,” he added. “My mom is on the Special Education Advisory Committee here at Davies, and she asked me if I wanted to be in the showcase. I said, 'OK,' but that was because I wanted to inspire more people to get into the robotics field.
“I mean, robotics is part of engineering and programming, so maybe they'd get into it and have a successful career in a related field.”
Freshman Ruth Matamoros of Pawtucket strolled up to “Zeus,” and looked at it with mouth agape.
“You built this? That's amazing!” she exclaimed. “I want to take it home because it's so shiny, and it moves. That's really cool!”
His answer: “You have no idea how difficult it was to build this.”
Before the Cabaret, most attendees partook in a roasted chicken dinner; about 200 were produced by students in the Community College of Rhode Island's Culinary Arts evening program at Davies (under the tutelage of Chef Ken Collins). Once the cupcakes were washed down with coffee, soda or water, several students took to the stage to deliver the entertainment.
Electronics teacher Frank Barcellos, dressed like one of the “Blues Brothers,” served as emcee, and he introduced “Renewal Effect.” The foursome of freshmen Danny Jesse and Peter Lavallee and sophomores Jason Johnson and Eddy Prest performed Johnny Rivers' “Secret Agent Man” on the same guitars they built with Difazio and Esser.
The crowd went ballistic, and did the same for Lincoln High student Jimmy Fitzgerald, who belted out and played on his acoustic guitar Springsteen's “Born to Run.” Then there was freshman Samantha Barbosa, who sang Cyndi Lauper's “True Colors,” DiFazio accompanying her on the piano.
“They've rehearsed so many times, but I know they're still a little nervous,” Blumenthal said of the singers and dancers. “Al worked really hard with them. They had about 10 rehearsals, so I know they're enjoying all the hoots and hollers.”