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Pinson Valley High School to contact ISS astronauts through ARISS program

By Crystal McGough

PINSON — Pinson Valley High School has been selected by the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) U.S. program to participate in a scheduled amateur radio contact with astronauts aboard the International Space Station as the ISS orbits over Alabama the week of April 9.

Students Justin Burgess and Colin Auclair in a class at PVHS. Photo provided by Lensey King.

“Amateur radio is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together,” PVHS Advanced English teacher Jennifer Moore said. “People use amateur radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.”

Moore heard about the ARISS program through her husband, who is an active amateur radio operator and involved with the American Radio Relay League. PVHS decided to begin the yearlong application process for the program in Jan. 2017.

The first stage of the application involved writing an educational plan, Moore said.

“Several teachers worked together to write this plan, which outlined our goals for teaching STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), communications, and aerospace topics in many content areas,” she said.

The educational plan was submitted to ARISS in April 2017.

“The first stage was the most detailed,” PVHS English teacher Susan Goggins said. “We had to answer an extensive application explaining why we wanted to participate, describing our school and community, detailing how we would involve our students in preparing for the event, and more.”

Once selected to move onto phase two, the PVHS staff had to create a technical and equipment plan showing that the school had the proper space, tech support and sightlines to host the event. This portion of the application was submitted in Aug. 2017.

“After we were chosen, it became a matter of following through with what we said we would do on our application,” she said. “We’re encouraging our faculty to create lessons that connect to the experience. For example, one of our CTE (Career/Technical Education) classes built a model of the ISS. An English class read ‘Rocket Boys.’ A science class is studying rocketry and will be having a competition to build a balloon rocket. The winning rocket will be the one that carries the most paper clips.”

Contact to the ISS will be made from the school’s auditorium, with help from ARISS mentors Dr. John Klutd and Tim Cunningham, Moore said. Cunningham will bring amateur radio equipment and assist the students in making contact with the astronaut on the ISS.

While the school’s auditorium will not hold the entire student body, Goggins said that they are hoping to be able to stream the event into classrooms to include students who will not be able to attend in person.

“We would love for the entire school to participate, but our entire student body will not fit into the auditorium,” Moore said. “Teachers who have been integrating communications, technology, and aerospace topics as well as our earth and space science teachers will definitely bring their classes. We also plan to invite local dignitaries, Jefferson County Board of Education officials, and the science clubs from our feeder schools.”

Moore said that the goal of this program is to expose PVHS students to STEAM topics and job opportunities with Alabama’s aerospace industry.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students,” she said. “We could never afford to bring in an astronaut guest-speaker, so this is the next best thing.”

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