Educator wants 'Space Camp' in classroom

By Curt Yeomans


Ellenwood resident, Ronnie Thomas, used to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on school field trips, as a child growing up in Birmingham, Ala.

The visits to the Huntsville, Ala., space center were only day trips, though, to see some of the old 1960's and 1970's era NASA memorabilia, he said.

As an educator, he went back to the space center from time to time, with classes of students for field trips, but he said they were still basically the same types of trips he took as a child.

Thomas, 31, who teaches third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade science at Parkside Elementary School, in Atlanta, did something more, however, on his most recent trip to the center.

In June, he participated in the center's week-long "Space Camp," through the Honeywell Hometown Solutions "Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy" program.

During the program, teachers participated in science and math-themed professional-development classes, he said. "I picked up so many different things that I can take back to school with me," he said. "Everything we did was so adaptable to the classroom."

This year, Honeywell Hometown Solutions awarded 220 scholarships to educators, representing 44 states, and 17 countries, to participate in the program, according to a written statement from the Morris Township, N.J.-based company.

The company also said that the program was created in 2004, to supplement their teacher training with 45 hours of astronaut-style training. "Through the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program, we have trained more than 1,100 science and math teachers to become more engaging and inspiring educators," said Honeywell Hometown Solutions President Thomas Buckmaster, in the statement.

Thomas, who has been a teacher for 10 years, said he participated in simulated space shuttle missions with other teachers. He said he also studied several space-related subjects, such as rocketry, robotics, thermal protection, what the planet Mars is like, and how to use "space toys" in zero-gravity environments.

He added that he also attended a lecture on how astronauts eat, and use the bathroom, in space. "Everything was about space, but it immensely incorporated math, science, engineering, and technology as well," he said.

He said he also had an opportunity to bring four of his students along, and had them participate in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's "Space Camp" program for children, while he participated in Honeywell's "Space Academy."

He said his goal is to bring at least a class-size group of approximately 30 students back to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, to participate in "Space Camp."

"When I was growing up, and even when I was a teacher taking students there, I never saw many groups of African-American children in the 'Space Camp' groups," Thomas said. "I'd like to, at least, expose my students to that type of experience."

In the meantime, the educator already has some ideas about how he is going to take what he learned in the Space Academy program and incorporate it into what he will teach at Parkside this fall. He said he plans to re-vamp a robotics club he previously started at the school.

He also said he wants to start rocketry, and amateur radio clubs at the school..

In the end, however, Thomas said the group that should take credit for what his students are going to learn in the upcoming school year, are the people at Honeywell. He said he is "very thankful" to the company for choosing him to participate in the program.

"Because of that investment they made by sending me to the 'Space Academy,' it is definitely going to impact hundreds of kids in the upcoming school year, and thousands more in the years to come," he said.