Flying Squirrels Group Photo

Left to right: Allegra Steege, Luke Wannemacher, Emerson LaPorta, Harrison Armus, Jade Steege and Mara Geer.

Six of the Belmont Heights area's brightest moved into their first year of middle school ready to take on another STEAM-centered challenge.

The challenge, Destination Imagination, provides elementary school students with program guides to help the students turn their imaginative ideas into reality by combining the arts and sciences.

Those students — Allegra Steege, Jade Steege, Evelyn Malsberger, Maya Geer, Emerson LaPorta and Harrison Armus — teamed together last year, calling themselves the "Sonic G Waves," and ultimately won their first challenge by using S.T.E.A.M.-based principles to tell a story using engineered elements, with judging based on technical designs and artistic presence.

After their first successful go at the competition, Christopher Steege, parent advisor (and dad to Allegra and Jade), said that the team was ready to regroup and try for a second win, this time with a new name — the Flying Squirrels.

Flying Squirrels 2019

Allegra Steege, Harrison Armus and Emerson LaPorta take their designs to the drawing board as they figure out how to make their imagination come to life on stage.

"I told them from the beginning, this is different from last year," Steege said. "We’re going to have to fail a lot, and I told them they might have to fail 100 times.”

That's because the rules for the competition this year were slightly different. 

The group would need to create an aircraft that can take off, land and drop payloads to a precise location, as well as integrate that aircraft into a narrative that involves someone lost in a remote space. Drone aircrafts were not permitted, and neither was help from adults.

"With Destination Imagination, there is a non-interference rule," Steege said. "Parents cannot be involved and the only things that we can do as team managers is teach them how to do things, like use a jigsaw or measure a piece of wood."

But, he added, the team didn't need much of his help.

“It took dozens of prototypes — I mean our house is just full of PVC prototypes — but they made a working aircraft,” he said. "And then not only did they create that aircraft, they created their costumes out of plush toys and designed their set."

It took more than half a year, but the team qualified for the Destination Imagination Global Finals, where they will be representing California and facing more than 1,400 teams from different countries. 

Flying Squirrels 2019

Christopher Steege and the team.

Their presentation is under eight minutes long, and follows "Flying Squirrels" that have dropped gifts to humans since the beginning of time, starting with the gift of fire. It progresses to the introduction of technology and all of the highs and lows that come with it.

Now the team is working on the next step of the process before the finals take place on May 22 to May 25 in Kansas City — fundraising.

"Other school districts the participate have funding set aside for students as part of the school curriculum," Steege said. "Long Beach doesn't have that and these kids do this outside of school. As parents, we cover the cost of the items they need, but now that they're off to finals again, there's a lot more expenses involved."

To help cover the cost for the travel, as well as to ship all of the items and materials needed for the presentation, the team is hosting a fundraiser in Belmont Shore, which features a preview of the presentation. Last year they were able to raise about $15,000, and this year, they're hoping to do about the same, Steege said.

There will be two performance — one at 5 p.m. and another at 6 p.m. — on Saturday, May 11, at Bay Shore Church, 5200 E. The Toledo. 

Flying Squirrels Painting

There is no cost to attend, but the team is asking for donations. Incentives for donating include signed photos of the team, private performances and recognition over social media.

"It takes a community for this to be possible," Steege said. "The kids are doing the work, but they wouldn't be able to take it further without the help of our neighbors and the people around them who want to see them succeed."

To make a donation to the Flying Squirrels, go to https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/caldi. Checks can be mailed to 28 Prospect Ave., Long Beach, CA 90803. All donations are tax deductible.

For more information about the Flying Squirrels, go to facebook.com/diflyingsquirrels. Christopher Steege also can be reached at steegesteege@gmail.com.

For information on the Destination Imagination Global Finals, go to destinationimagination.org.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com. 

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