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Young minds lift off in class

College offers aeronautics course with help from NASA

Posted: July 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Chris Mendoza, 12, left, and Elijah Bulatao, 13, begin work on a sled kite in a NASA aeronautics class at College of the Canyons' Summer Institute in Valencia on Monday

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Working side by side and making meticulous measurements, students Jacob Chen and Harrison Oliphant made precision cuts for their homemade mast — a plastic bag supported by a pair of dowel rods.

The two were determined to execute a blueprint for flight Monday, the product of their first day of a new aeronautics course at College of the Canyons’ Summer Institute in Valencia.

The junior high students started their day with a lesson in flight history — from ancient Chinese kites to the Wright brothers’ pioneering ways, focusing on the laws of physics that guided both types of liftoff.

Now it was time to put the plan into action.

“We got to fly paper airplanes in class,” said Harrison, a seventh-grader at Rio Norte Junior High.

“Yeah, the teachers usually don’t let us do that,” echoed Jacob, his lab partner and fellow Rio Norte seventh-grader.

Now in its fifth year, the college’s Summer Institute offers one-week curricula originally intended to expose junior high students to career education in fields that involve specialized skills such as welding and engineering.

The program recently expanded to include high school students, according to Adriana Estrada, COC Summer Institute coordinator.

“Students tell us all the time that they wished their traditional classroom settings were like this,” Estrada said. “The classes bring education to life.”

The aeronautics course is being taught by COC students who participated in a seminar taught by NASA, which trained them in teaching a basic aeronautics course for children.

The program benefits both its college-aged teachers and its younger students, said Russ Billings, pre-college officer for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

“We’re very impressed by COC’s program,” Billings said. “(At COC), you also have peer mentoring, and that’s a much better mechanism for really reaching kids. And any time you get to reach that age group, that’s a very powerful tool.”

The classrooms, which usually have about two dozen students, introduce a variety of skills, including an entrepreneurial education, said Tim Baber, COC’s department chair for welding technology.

As a group of kids milled about the welding center — all under Baber’s watchful eyes, of course — a student admired his cardstock model and managed to sum up what most members of the predominantly male class might have been thinking as they explored their education with high-powered flames and molten metal.

“It’s every guy’s dream to destroy stuff with giant lasers,” said Ian Woodworth, a West Ranch High-bound 14-year-old who likened the class to one of his favorite video games. “The tools we’re using are straight out of ‘Halo.’”

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