For students at Hall County’s Friendship Elementary, the sky isn’t the limit — it’s a major area of study. From weather and the solar system to the intricacies of aerodynamics, the Buford school’s 652 youngsters have an inside track on learning about the world above their heads, and they’ve been lauded for their efforts.
The learning curve comes largely in part to the school’s active involvement in Aerospace Connections in Education, a nationwide program launched by the Civil Air Patrol about 10 years ago. The organization has a long history of offering flight instruction and providing emergency services from search parties to photography. Last year, fifth grade instructor Brian Johnston got the school behind the ACE learning objectives.
“I saw there were a lot of things that are almost free that I could I get as a teacher by being a member of ACE,” he said. “We have access to 15 different kits on topics such as weather stations, telescopes, hydraulics, simple machines and electricity. And each one comes with detailed lesson plans. Last year, every grade level taught an ACE lesson.”
Through ACE resources, the school also set up a weather station on the roof. “It’s wireless, and we had to purchase the materials, but it’s great,” said Johnston. “It sends wireless data to the computer system, and we can go onto our website and study it.”
Last year, every grade level got behind ACE initiatives. Fifth graders built rockets with 35mm film canisters, water and effervescent tablets, then studied the physical and chemical changes. They also examined the space race using foot-high model rockets with engines that ACE provided and learned about the difficulties and importance of exercising in a weightless environment.
“We had all the teachers working together to teach 10 aerospace-themed lessons, be it a STEM or STEAM activity,” said Johnston. “Our PE teacher taught every grade level an appropriate activity. Even our music teacher got involved. Everybody was teaching it.”
The school’s strong support recently earned a national ACE award that noted the across-the-board commitment to introducing students to aerospace initiatives. The honor also came with funds to purchase telescopes, electric snap circuit kits and rockets.
“The ACE program provides many things that are often cost prohibitive,” said Principal Tracie Brack. “We got the weather station. Some of our teachers have had the opportunity to go on a flight. Things like telescopes are expensive items for any school, and ACE allows us to offer them to our students. We now have an astronomy night when parents and kids can come and look through the telescopes.”
For Brack, one of the best parts of the ACE program is its hands-on approach. “That creates an energy in the classroom and an experience kids remember,” she said. “I love that they’re getting so involved with science, especially since so many of our jobs in the future will have to do with problem solving and working through experiments. It’s so beneficial for our students to have these opportunities in their hands.”
Johnston also saw the ACE partnership as a way to bring the real world into the classroom.
“Our job as teachers is to teach kids things that will help them so maybe some of them will fill positions we’ll need in the near future,” he said. “Best of all, the kids and the teachers enjoy that they’re involved in doing hands-on, fun activities.”
Information about Friendship Elementary: fes.hallco.org.