APS teachers attend NASA's LiftOff Program

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Galvez Middle teacher Michelle Savoy and Spanish Lake Primary teacher Becky Fritchie travelled to Houston, Texas this summer to participate in the 2018 LiftOff Cohort sponsored by NASA's Texas Space Consortium with scholarships provided by the Louisiana Space Consortium.

The LiftOff Summer Institute was held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston June 24 through 29. A nationally competitive program sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium, teachers were selected to participate to increase their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math through space education.

The theme of the summer program that Savoy and Fritchie participated in was Reach New Heights, Reveal the Unknown, Benefit all Humankind. Teacher attendees were able to collaborate with professional scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of space exploration.

LiftOff is a collaborative effort of Texas Space Grant Consortium members and affiliates, NASA and industry. To be accepted into the program, Savoy and Fritchie had to apply in a competitive selection process. Their week in Houston consisted of workshops, hands-on activities, field investigations and NASA presentations of various missions.

Galvez Middle's Michelle Savoy

Born and raised in Gonzales, Michelle Savoy has taught eighth grade science at Galvez Middle for the past seven years after serving 19 years as a paraprofessional. Savoy is a proud graduate of East Ascension High and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University in Arizona as well as a master’s degree in educational technology and leadership from Southeastern Louisiana University. She and her husband of 25 years, Brian Savoy, have three children: Laura, Brady and Seth.

Still a new and excited teacher, Savoy stays involved with space programs to increase her own learning. She found out about LiftOff while working on a Space Grant for the solar eclipse at Louisiana State University. This is her second year with the LiftOff program. “If you prove to have taught faculty what you have learned, you can go more than once,” Savoy said.

While her first experience with LiftOff focused on stars and galaxies, this year’s was focused closely on Mars. During the trip, Savoy said they listened to and interacted with several guest speakers, scientists, and engineers from NASA who taught them classroom activities. Not only did the participants like Savoy learn from guest speakers, they were also able to take home lessons from all other 59 teachers who attended LiftOff to share with their students. Along with interacting with one another, the teachers toured facilities such as the buoyancy lab, Kennedy Space Center and the International Space Station mockup. “The Space Station was the same size as the one in real life,” Savoy recalled, “and we got VIP access.”

The most rewarding part of the trip for Savoy was meeting three of the very first six female astronauts: Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon, Shannon W. Lucid and Dr. Anna L. Fischer. “It made me feel empowered as a woman,” she said. Savoy looks up to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space in 1983 who passed away in 2012.

Savoy is excited to share her LiftOff experience in a potential family space night for the schools and local libraries to bring awareness to students who may want to work in the astronomy field. She also wants to show libraries different technologies, adding to the STEM push, fields which include science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As for teachers who want to get involved in this program, Savoy’s advice is to reach out! “They can do it, too,” she said, “There’s a whole world out there that needs to be explored.”

Spanish Lake Primary's Becky Fritchie

Spanish Lake Primary teacher Becky Fritchie was born in Ponchatoula, but has been a proud resident of Ascension for 15 years. For nine of those 15 years, she has taught fifth grade science, social studies and math as well as fourth grade ELA. She graduated from LSU in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Fritchie and her husband of 16 years, Luke Fritchie, have two sons, Corbin and Cohen.

After a life-changing experience attending Space Camp through the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy (HESA), Fritchie has found many opportunities to further her knowledge and her students’ knowledge on space exploration, history and current NASA projects and voyages. Following HESA, Fritchie attended the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) in Houston, where her fellow educators encouraged her to apply for LiftOff. Being accepted into the program, Fritchie was able to meet Astronaut Clayton Anderson, who enlightened LiftOff attendees about his failure to be accepted into the astronaut program 15 times. “He encouraged us to support and harvest our students’ dreams and goals, challenge them to persevere through ‘failure’ and be proud of who and what they are no matter what,” she said.

Not only did Fritchie get to view these guest speakers along with Savoy, she participated in a space mission-themed escape room, as well. Teachers were able to experience what it was like to be an astronaut in an activity called “Mission: Leapfrog at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.” They also toured the Johnson Space Center and were taught about Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) where scientists are currently collecting sun, asteroid, meteorite, moon, comet and stardust samples.

Professionals and scientists spoke about space suit construction and solar system tracking through the NASA Eyes App, collaborations with global space monitoring organizations and more. Fritchie met with Astronaut Fred Haise about Apollo 13 and the shuttle program. Members of the Civil Air Patrol shared opportunities for teachers who share a passion for space exploration and the future of aerospace education.

The most rewarding part of the program for Fritchie were the lessons she gets to bring back to school from the other teachers who shared their favorite lessons and new technology, such as augmented reality and digital simulators. Her favorite lesson is “Cooking up a Comet,” in which students can make a comet out of dry ice and other chemicals.

“Their minds are going to be blown, like ours were, and it is my hope that they will be inspired to do some investigating of their own!” Fritchie exclaimed. Of all of the NASA officials and professionals, scientists, guides and astronauts, their main message was "no one works alone.” Fritchie enjoyed learning that teamwork and collaboration are key skills at NASA. “I want to inspire my kids and co-workers to go for their dreams and not to let their own self doubt stop them or get in the way. I want them to be brave, try new things and know it is okay to be scared… go for it anyway!” Fritchie advises.

Fritchie’s advice to teachers is to apply for SEEC, LiftOff or HESA as soon as there are open applications. “The networking in these opportunities is what makes them so life-changing,” she said, “The people you meet and learn from are so valuable.” She would also encourage other teachers to build a team who always challenges them to improve, try new things, learn more and dig deeper into their passions.

Teaching at different schools in the parish, LiftOff was also an opportunity for Savoy and Fritchie to meet. Savoy’s second year and Fritchie’s first year in the program became the beginning of a new friendship and a way to connect their respective schools as they plan to share their experiences together.

Teachers interested in this experience can find resources to participate in a mini-version of LiftOff provided by the WWII National Museum in New Orleans in a program called Real World Science (RWS). RWS is a weeklong summer seminar for middle school math and science teachers which explores key STEM concepts using examples from WWII. The maximum participation is 28 teachers from across the country. These selected teachers gain hands-on experience regarding necessity, knowledge, perseverance and skill which lead to inventions, innovation and careers in the STEM field.

For more information about Ascension Public Schools, visit www.apsb.org. To learn more about LiftOff, go to http://liftoffhouston.fluidreview.com/. If you are interested in experiencing Real World Science, visit https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/educator-resources/professional-development/real-world-science.

Contributed by Ascension Public Schools