Orange County students participate in global education initiative about space

Thousands of Orange County School students recently took a trip to space – kind of.

The district participated in a global education initiative that brought the final frontier a little closer to home in an effort to increase student engagement.

"When I saw that huge sign outside that looked like a spacecraft, I was like ah," said Ella Marie Chartier of Killarney Elementary. "But when I looked into my room when I got back from the announcements, I was like [shocked]." 

From the rockets to astronauts, no space-themed detail was spared. 

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"I like to make it an experience," said Adair Ziebarth, Kindergarten Teacher of Killarney Elementary. 

The school was one of 66 in the district that participated in the education initiative called "Rock Your School" that’s rolled out across all 50 states. While the decorations are cool, teachers explained that it's really about what students are learning. 

For example, what is a light-year? Or even understanding sentence structure by writing about constellations. 

"We read the Apollo 8 Space Mission. We’ve been learning about first and second-hand accounts," Chartier added.

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"Hands-on activities – it’s super beneficial to their learning," said Lauren Jordahl, a fourth-grade teacher.

These types of big hands-on activities were pretty non-existent for many students this time last year when school staff said that only about 30 percent of Killarney Elementary students were enrolled in traditional learning because of COVID-19. A national report by research firm McKinsey and Company found some students across the country may have ended the school year four to five months behind, even with the district's best efforts to navigate learning challenges. 

"We talk a lot about those learning gaps, especially because of the pandemic. Things like this help us really up the motivation for kids," Ziebarth told FOX 35.

"I’m seeing proficiency with my students with their end-of-unit assessments," Jordahl added.

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With the Space Coast right in their backyard, teachers said it is also a reminder to students that they can work in the industry too.

"Expose them to a lot of different careers. We hear kids say all the time I want to do this or that," said Ziebarth. "I can guarantee after today we will have some kids say, ‘I want to be an astronaut.'"

Another really cool part of this experience included a live question-and-answer portion with all students in the school and an astronomer.  

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