Former Prattan eighth grader Jaxon Ray was engineer on a Future City project with a class of middle school students Lawrence that produce open space concepts for a city 150 years in the future.

Former Pratt resident Jaxon Ray has always had a talent for taking things apart and putting them back together, especially electronics. Now his efforts have helped moved a team of classmates to a national city design competition in Washington D.C.

Ray, whose family lived in Pratt until they moved to Lawrence in 2016, is a 13-year-old eighth grader at Southwest Middle School. He is part of the "Future City" class that challenges students to imagine, design and build cities for the future, according to the Future City web site.

Ray's class, taught by Danielle Lotton-Barker, entered the Great Plains Regional competition at Kansas State University where they competed against 56 teams from Kansas, Colorado and Missouri and they won the competition. They will now compete at nationals in Washington D.C. that runs Feb. 18-21.

"I'm really excited about it," Ray said.

Future City is a worldwide program that reaches 40,000 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the U.S. and abroad. They are given a topic and have to design a city 150 years in the future that addressed the topics. An essay they write has to explain the changes to the future city.

"A lot of the stuff they talk about doesn't exist yet," said Ray's mother Jodi Ray.

A big challenge for the students is the design has to be realistic and doable. Each team should be able to take the finished design to a real engineer and they could actually use it, Ray said.

Every year a city sustainable issue is selected. Past topics include stormwater management, urban agriculture and green energy. The 2016-2017 topic is "The Power of Public Space." The program causes students to use STEM skills of science, technology, engineering and math, according to the Future City website.

Each team is divided into three groups: Essay team (1,500 word essay), simulation city team (using the SimCity program), scale model team. The also have to make a project plan and make a presentation to the judges.

Ray's team is "Team Teratia" and has 29 members. He is on the 11 member scale model team that has to construct a model city. Each team gets $100 for supplies but most of the materials are salvaged recyclable items. Ray's mom Jodi Ray said 95 percent of the materials have to be recycled.

Ray's job was to engineer the scale model board for everything that moved and all the wiring. His moving items include an electric train, a water treatment plant, a wind farm and a swimming shark that followed an electromagnetic path, Ray said.

The train, shark, treatment plant and wind farm, like everything else on the model city, are built out of recycled materials as required by program rules. The layout board is 38 inches by 48 inches. There is no weight limit but the team has to be able to carry it. Most of the recycled material for construction came out of the trash but not "nothing nasty." Ray said.

Students get very creative with their supplies and when the board is complete, it's hard to tell it was made from trash.

At regionals, the model city and essay were judged and three members of the team had to make a seven minute presentation on their project.

The team started working on the project in Sept. 2016 and completed the process in Jan. 20 so it was a long process.

A teacher at Ray's middle school introduced him to the "Future City" program. The teacher saw the electronic creations Ray brought to school and said he needs to be in the Future City class. It was a perfect match.

"It's one of the best things that's ever happened to me," Ray said.

Getting involved with Future City has allowed Ray to be creative and to meet and work with new people. He also learned new building tips and tricks plus he got some leadership skills.

It has also provided a unique challenge because the entire team, all 29 students, have to agree on the various elements of the project, Ray said.

Besides Future City and the other usual middle school activities, Ray has established his own cell phone repair business at school. Students will give him a cell phone that's not working. He will take it home and take it apart to see what's wrong. He'll check prices then take it back to the student to see if they want to pay the price. If they agree, he'll fix the phone.

He also works on other electronics. Right now he is restoring a 1984 Apple II C computer.

Ray is right at home doing electronic engineering. When he was just 6 years old, he would take old electronics apart, unused cell phones and old VCRs, repair them and put them back together. He didn't work on anything important like the family computer or the TV.

Ray is the son of Jodi and Kendall Ray. His grandparents are Keith and Elaine Ray and Buddy and Theresa Stephens, all of Pratt. He has a younger brother Parker. In Pratt, he attended Southwest Elementary and Liberty Middle School. Part of his inspiration came from his fourth grade teacher Pam Branaman who had lots of art projects that stimulated his imagination. The LMS Principal Tony Helfrich was also a source of inspiration. He encouraged Ray to build things including his first computer that was on display in the LMS office. It was put together from old cell phone parts and other electronics and did work for a while.

He wants to eventually start his own computer company or work at Apple headquarters.

@GaleR_Tribune