Reaching for the Stars

November 27, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Teachers often go to great lengths to motivate their students to reach for the stars. One fortunate and unique group of kids motivated a Valley teacher to bring Outer Space to them thanks to his association with NASA. Together they met a challenge that thousands of students and teachers across America were taking on.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/misse_basil.html
www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/swinging-for-the-fence.html
quest.nasa.gov/projects/spacewardbound/mojave2007/bios/loewen.html
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It was in early August of 2007 when Fresno native Barbara Morgan and America's Teacher in Space shared her shuttle mission with ten million basil seeds. Those seeds had final destinations in classrooms across the country including a science class at American Avenue and Chestnut south of downtown Fresno.

That's where Dan Loewen teaches at the Fresno County Court School on the Juvenile Justice Center Campus, "I love it when their eyes open up and their world gets bigger." Dan Loewen wants the world and its universe to excite his students. He's also one of NASA's Educator Astronaut Teachers determined to bring math and science to students who are incarcerated at this juvenile detention center. Opening eyes to the universe here can be a real challenge. 16 year old Nick, a juvenile offender, answered our questions honestly, "Did you know it was going to be math and science? Not a clue."

Dan Loewen believes every one of these offenders should be taught to try, "Sometimes it's a little bit difficult and you have roadblocks, but when we make that fantastic move forward, its big move forward."

Outside the locked confines of this heavily guarded place the three teenage boys we met and talked with would likely be enemies. 16 year old Nick told us, "I went to school occasionally when I wasn't suspended or kicked out." The 'NASA' classes of Loewen and two other teachers are working to change that and get them focused on learning. They are says Loewen worth the effort, "This environment gives me an opportunity to make a difference."

Legally we can't show you their faces but you can plainly hear what these teens are learning in their voices. 15 year old Cory said the class is opening his eyes to the power of working together to solve a problem, design a plane or make something work, "Like some people will see something and I'll see something completely different but when we tie it together it comes out to be something better than both of us."

Corey and Nick are newcomers to the NASA class but last semester Anthony was there helping design and builds a chamber where plants could be watered in micro-gravity. This was a NASA challenge that students all over the country were tackling.

This class in Fresno County is the only one being conducted inside a place where the students are locked up. Anthony - 17 years old Anthony told us working on the project has motivated him to get out of the world of criminal behavior, "We actually got to be involved with something that was more than just juvenile hall."

The teachers took the student's chambers to NASA's Ames Research Center here in California where they and the projects were flown in zero gravity to test their work, "We wanted to know could it withstand the rigors of micro gravity and we were very pleased with our results." Dan Loewen's kids had done it. These incarcerated students worked side by side during 2 hours a week allotted for this class. They achieved success and NASA's respect. Their next challenge will be to, "Get something to grow inside those chambers."

Loewen is hopeful that the science and life lessons learned here will help these students succeed on the outside. Anthony has no doubts at all, "Math and science can fit anywhere in my future, just all depends on where I want to take myself."

We plan to stay in touch with the NASA kids and teachers at the Fresno County Court School and will bring you updates on their progress in and out of custody.

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