Sulphur Springs’ GATE Academy blasts off

Julietta Amador from Canyon Springs Elementary school launches her bottle rocket into the sky Thursday morning. The Sulphur Springs Union School District host a summer GATE Academy at Leona Cox Community School for current 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade GATE students. Eddy Martinez/The SIgnal.

The gifted and talented students of the Sulphur Springs Union School District had the opportunity to act as engineers and launch working model rockets, helicopters and other handcrafted scientific contraptions during a three-day Gifted and Talented Education Academy.

The launches were a small part of SSUSD’s GATE Academy, which provided incoming fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students a hands-on way to learn science by testing design concepts and other engineering principles related to aeronautics.

The purpose of the event was to give students an opportunity to practice engineering, Next Generation Science Standards and provide them opportunities to fail and persevere, “because oftentimes GATE kids don’t have the opportunity to do that,” said Kim Treddick, Sulphur Springs’ director of curriculum and instruction and GATE Academy coordinator.

“If students learn how to work hard even when they aren’t successful,” she added, “then when they are challenged, they’ll have the confidence that they can be successful if they can find the courage to try.”

During the academy, students said they were challenged to make projects based on machines created by NASA and Boeing, which helped them learn about energy, gravity and pressure.

Groups of children from each school site manipulated PVC pipe, water bottles, skewers and other basic materials in an effort to construct mini turbine engines, stomp rockets and helicopters that would glide for three seconds while carrying a penny.

When a project failed — and many did — some children became upset while others were determined to find success, even if it meant repurposing their projects like Xander Zigler did, when he turned his group’s failed airplane wing into a giant fan that he’ll take home to his family.

“I thought it was fun to build, but it was difficult to design and think of the projects,” said Nicholas Maryniak, a future fourth-grader. “I enjoyed it because it made me think and find ways to persevere.”

“It was better than a school week because we don’t really do stuff like this,” said Ryder Shaughnessy, who attended because she saw how much fun her sister had last year. “I like that it was all craft and hands-on projects.”

Other students shared stories highlighting the former NASA engineer who came to visit or when they had to find solutions to constraints that kept them from putting a man on Mars.

“They put learning in a fun way with fun activities,” incoming fourth-grader Aryanna Ochoa said.

Even though he could be at home playing video games, Zigler said he had to agree with his peers.

“It’s a great place to be,” he said. “I’d come back next year if I can.”

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