Challenger Learning Center inspires Tahoe-Truckee fifth-graders | SierraSun.com

Challenger Learning Center inspires Tahoe-Truckee fifth-graders

Jessica VanPernis Weaver
Special to the Sun

Fifth-grade students from Truckee Elementary recently participated in the "Mission to Mars" at the Challenger Learning Center in Sparks.

Remember when you were 10 or 11 years old and in fifth grade? By this age, maybe you had grand ideas of what you wanted your future career to be — maybe you had no idea.

Hands-on opportunities to learn about different career choices may have helped sparked your passion and helped outline your goals.

Every year, fifth-grade students from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District have the opportunity to be rocket scientists or astronauts for a day when they participate in simulated space missions at the Challenger Learning Center in Sacramento or Sparks.

The field trips are funded by a generous donation from the Truckee Tahoe Airport in partnership with the Excellence in Education Foundation.

"The day I went to Challenger was the day I discovered a passion for aviation and aerospace that has only grown since," said Keely Hoyt, a junior at Truckee High School. "At Challenger I learned a great deal about teamwork and independence. This was probably the first experience I had where it was absolutely necessary to rely on my peers to successfully complete a task."

Designed in cooperation with NASA, the Challenger Learning Center offers visitors the next best thing to actual space flight with a Mission Control room designed after NASA Johnson Space Center and an orbiting space station modeled after the laboratory on the International Space Station.

Recommended Stories For You

Students apply what they've learned throughout the school year to travel to the moon, rendezvous with a comet, or go on a mission to Mars. Throughout the exercise, kids also learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration.

This year, as a high school aide for Mardiece Patrick's fifth grade class at Truckee Elementary, Hoyt had the opportunity to return to the Challenger Learning Center.

"(The Challenger Learning Center field trip) really opened their eyes to the world of space flight, but I think it opened their eyes to the importance of teamwork even more," said Mardiece Patrick, fifth-grade teacher at Truckee Elementary School. "We talk about teamwork a lot, but this experience let them feel it in the 'real world.'"

Hoyt echoed this sentiment, recalling that the Challenger Learning Center field trip was, "one of the few times from when I was younger that I can remember having to figure things out on my own. If something went wrong during the mission the adults in the room wouldn't spoon feed us the solutions, instead they would ask, 'What do you think you should do to fix it?'"

Excellence in Education executive director Laura Brown commented that, "programs like this that support hands-on education for students are what Excellence in Education is proud to be part of. The value this program brings to local students is intangible."

As for Hoyt, she is currently working at Sierra Aero, a local maintenance shop and flight school, in exchange for flight lessons.

She received a scholarship through the Truckee EAA chapter for an aviation camp in Wisconsin this summer and is looking at colleges with strong aviation programs.

Jessica VanPernis Weaver is an Excellence in Education Board Member. Visit exined.org to learn more.