In keeping with the theme of expanding frontiers, students at Lafayette International Community High School in Buffalo lift their eyes to the sky as part of the school’s second year of Space Club.
Funded by the education wing of Northwest Buffalo Community Center, Space Club started in the fall of 2017 by taking a weekly journey into the history of human space exploration. Made up of students from around the world, Lafayette is in its 3rd year as the Buffalo arm of the Internationals Network of Public Schools, headquartered in New York City.
“I come here to learn more about space because I feel that I might be interested in it and I want to know what is up there in the sky, what people do there and how does it affect us,” said Augustin Bonane, an 11th grader at Lafayette International.
In its first year, about 30 students arrived at school an hour early to learn about the trials and tribulations of early space flight. Their journey started with the breaking of the sound barrier in 1947, through the Space Race to the moon in the 1960’s, then onto the Voyager missions of the 1970’s and 80’s, and the study of planets in our solar system. Some students came on Friday mornings to build a model of the Saturn V rocket, which launched Apollo 11 into space ahead of its moon landing July 20, 1969.
“I wanted to come to Space Club because I never learned about space,” said Nasra Ali, one of the first students to join the club. “I want to become a scientist or a doctor and I feel this was an important step toward my future.”
The 2017-2018 school year culminated with a field trip in May to the Challenger Learning Center of Lockport, where students took on the role of scientists simulating a rendezvous with Comet Halley. Imagining the year was 2061 (the next time the comet will approach Earth), students were broken into two teams: Mission Control and an orbiting Space Station. Each team had eight different roles: communication, data, navigation, probe, life support, remote, isolation and medical.
“The field trip was exciting,” said Ali. “To see how they work and communicate with each other and how they succeed to get into space was something I will not forget in my entire life.”
Collaborating together, students constructed a probe, plotted an intercept course and overcame the challenges of space exploration. After an hour, students switched from Mission Control to the Space Station (or vice versa), giving them the opportunity to experience both aspects of the mission. Students were allowed to choose roles that drew upon their strengths. For example, the communication team needed two students comfortable with public speaking and a clear loud voice while the navigation and isolation teams required math skills and hand-eye coordination.
After the mission, students ate lunch, then were treated to a planetarium show in the Challenger Learning Center’s pop-up planetarium. The center’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Kathy Michaels also gave a lesson on how to find constellations, planets and Polaris. One of the newest in the nation, the Challenger Learning Center of Lockport is one of dozens of living memorials across the country. Started by the families of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew, who died tragically on January 28th, 1986, Challenger Learning Centers are dedicated to educating students in science, math, and engineering.
Space Club’s popularity continues to grow at the school. This year, students attend after school every week for one or two days, depending on what they want to learn about. On Wednesdays, they watch documentaries and films such as National Geographic’s Mars, the film First Man and as well as live launches of SpaceX rockets while keeping up with the current events. On Thursdays, students are working on a paper mache solar system project, where students choose and create their own planet or sun, while studying moons and the make-up of our celestial neighborhood.
Cassie Lipsitz, an art teacher at Lafayette, has been helping with the Solar System project by sharing her expertise with the students. “I really like the idea of doing cross curricular visualizations because the idea of seeing helps them understand concepts,” said Lipsitz.
The Solar System project has stimulated a lot of discussion and interest in what’s out there. But mostly people come to hang with their friends.
“I think working together at Lafayette International is so special because we learn how to communicate with each other and we’ve come from different countries,” said Hamdi Mohamed, who chose Uranus for her planet to study. “We get to learn what we want and develop teamwork. It’s important because being a union is the best thing in the world.”
So, why did Hamdi choose Uranus to study?
“Because I’m already here. I’m already on Earth. Uranus, I don’t know anything about it.”