Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Kemp Primary School students gasped when they put their eclipse shades over their eyes and looked to the sky, at the small orange dot that was the sun on Thursday.
The students, ranging from pre-kindergartners to second-graders, were learning about solar physics from Stephen Ramsden, an ambassador with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Solar System Ambassador Program. Ramsden is also an air traffic controller at the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hampton.
It was "Career Day" at the school, where the youths got to learn about a variety of job fields, ranging from astrophysics, to fire fighting, to medicine, to home construction.
Kemp Primary School Guidance Counselor Annette McCraw, the organizer of the event, said the purpose was to let the children get hands-on exposure to different types of career paths that they could pursue, someday.
"That's what schools are supposed to do," McCraw said. "Our job is to guide them toward a career choice in the future."
The event was the culmination of a week, in which students were surveyed by their teachers about what types of careers they might be interested in. McCraw said the youngsters were given career information that included inventory sheets displaying pictures of different types of careers. The children got to look at the pictures, and then write down, on separate sheets of paper, which careers they would be interested in pursuing.
McCraw said the youths expressed interests in a wide variety of career paths. "We had a lot of students who were like 'Oh, I want to be a bus driver when I grow up,'" McCraw said. "But, we also had several students who said they wanted to be doctors, or nurses. We had some who said they wanted to write things when they grow up. We had some students who said they wanted to be teachers. Some of them even said they wanted to paint things."
But, the main event was the "Career Fair" on Thursday. The students, and even some of the professionals who participated, said they got a kick out of the presentations.
"It's really fun for us, because we get to see how they look up to firefighters as role models," said Clayton County firefighter, Kevin Warr. "There's a hero factor involved there, because we're put on such a high pedestal by these kids."
Warr was joined at the firefighter presentation station by fellow Clayton County firefighters, Aaron Jackson and Lt. Mike Grant.
Second-grader Ryan Puffer, 8, said he liked watching Jackson put on all of his firefighting gear, "because he's got all of that stuff he's got to wear." Puffer added that he looks at the firefighters as heroes, because "they save people's lives."
A popular exhibit, however, was Ramsden's solar physics presentation. Ramsden handed out the eclipse shades, which are provided by one of his funding sponsors, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, to the students, so they can safely look at the sun without damaging their eyes. He also let the youngsters look at the sun through a pair of high-powered telescopes.
Ramsden said he frequently goes to metro-area schools, as part of NASA's Solar System Ambassador Program, to teach children about careers in science. Last year alone, he said, he gave demonstrations to 75,000 students and adults.
"I enjoy doing this because about 1-in-50 kids will say something that makes me really feel like I'm making a difference in their lives," Ramsden said. "It's when they go 'WOW' with that look, the wide eyes and the gaping mouth, on their face."
For the students, many said they just liked being able to see the solar system in a new light. "That was cool, because we got to see the sun," said second-grader, Brooklyn Pitts.
"I was like surprised, because I never saw the sun like that before," added second-grader, Brianna Burns.