Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

High Bridge Elementary students honor late astronaut

Children learn about space travel on anniversary of Challenger disaster

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Star
Ijeoma Onuora, a second-grader in a class taught by Yhonnie Myers and Jacqueline Page, draws an astronaut Monday on what will be the cover for the body of the space shuttle she is building at High Bridge Elementary School in Bowie.
Students at High Bridge Elementary School paused Monday to remember the life of a Bowie State University alumna whose goal of being the first teacher in space came to a catastrophic end in 1986.

Monday marked the 22nd anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s explosion, in which Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts died.

The students’ activities began last week, when their teachers taught a lesson about McAuliffe and the Challenger flight. Teachers tailored the lesson to suit the different age groups because of the sensitivity of the topic, parent liaison Madelyn Cala said.

Students gathered in the school’s cafeteria to make a space ship from old paper towel and toilet paper rolls, construction paper and cotton balls.

Cala said the hands-on project was intended to help students retain the lesson.

‘‘It’s important that they know who she is and what happened,” Cala said.

She also hopes the project could spur dialogue between the children and their parents about the incident when they take home their space ships.

McAuliffe’s death made headlines more than a decade, before the students were born.

‘‘A lot of them were aware [of the incident] and some were surprised to know that she was a teacher, and they were excited to find out more information,” said fourth-grade teacher Sharon Collins.

A native of Massachusetts, McAuliffe earned her master’s degree in education from Bowie State University and taught in Maryland for eight years — first at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Morningside and later at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham.

McAuliffe was teaching at Concord High School in Concord, N.H., when she was chosen for the NASA Teacher in Space program, according to her NASA biography.

‘‘[McAuliffe] wanted to teach her class in space, and [the space ship] was the only way they could take her to the moon. But the space ship had problems and it exploded,” said Cameron Smith, 9, a High Bridge fourth-grader who participated in the project.

The students were asked to draw a picture of what they thought McAuliffe looked like and what she would have seen as she looked out the window of the spacecraft.

Ayana Adkins, 7, a second-grader, said she enjoyed learning about space travel and making her space ship.

‘‘Space is a good place,” she said.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.