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Iaeger Elementary’s Afterschool Program Showcases Recent NASA Challenge for Board of Education

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH, WV – Students from Iaeger Elementary stole the show at Monday’s McDowell County Board of Education meeting, detailing their NASA Afterschool Challenge.

The students worked in teams to design and build a pressure suit to protect their pilot (a marshmallow) from a vacuum situation like astronauts encounter in outer space. Using a slideshow of photos detailing their building process, students walked parents and the Board of Education through the entire project. 

“It wasn’t just putting glue of paper,” said Eric Hamilton of IES’s Afterschool Program. “They had to learn NASA terminology, exploration. We worked 30 day, an hour at a time.” 

To raise the stakes of the challenge, the pressure suit and marshmallow pilot could not weigh more than 50 grams. 

“Our first prototype weighed in at 50.1 grams so we had to start over,” said Hamilton. 

After several prototypes, the students were able to successfully complete the challenge. 

“What you saw here was 99% done by the kids,” said Walter Nukem, before offering to demonstrate why pressure suits are necessary in a vacuum situation. 

Demonstrating on a marshmallow, Nukem explained that when introduced to a vacuum environment, it would expand, much like the human body. But once introduced back to atmospheric pressure, the marshmallow collapsed, shrinking in size. 

Everyone in the room applauded the teams following the demonstration. 

“Walter and Eric have done a great job with the NASA Afterschool Challenge,” said Bonita Miano. “All the kids are going to Fairmont in the middle of March to tour the NASA site up there and to perform the same demonstration you all saw tonight.” 

Out of 31 after school programs, only five participated in the challenge including Iaeger Elementary School. 

“We’re really proud of these boys and girls,” said Miano. 

Following the NASA team demonstration, Amanda Peyton went over a mid-year Early Reading report, showing progress over the last five years. 

“When we looked at 3rd grade reading scores in Spring of 2014, we saw 33% of our Third graders reading at or above level,” said Peyton. “We knew we needed to look at what we were doing. What could we do differently or what supports we could provide to classroom teachers.”

In 2014, Peyton cited several causes of the reading deficit: 

– Policy 2510 erased reading time sanctions, formerly 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading. Classrooms ranged from 30 minutes to 60, according to teacher preference.

– In classroom observations, children picking up a text to read on their own was very minimal, but some classes were better.

– Worksheets were the most common phonics instruction at the time, and differentiation between 25 students was a significant challenge.

– Professional development was out of the classroom at the time, mostly evenings and weekends, making it hard for teachers living outside of McDowell County to attend. 

5 years later, McDowell County Schools’ Early Reading Structure has changed to include 90 minutes of reading instruction, with 15 minutes dedicated to phonic sounds and 15 minutes of time in text.

“Everyone is getting a Power Phonics lesson,” said Peyton. “Time in text is every student has their own reading pouch, at their own level that they can read independently. We know every child is reading for at least 15 minutes.” 

Aside from the Core 90 minutes, students also have WIN, or What I Need Intervention time, which features another 15 minutes of Power Phonics training and time in text, plus 15 minutes in a targeted area. 

“Add that all together and they’re getting 135 minutes of reading instruction every day,” said Peyton. “30 minutes of power phonics and 30 minutes of time in text from their personalized reading pouch.”

Professional development was another area of focus in raising reading scores. From week long summer academies, in-classroom active learning, and coaching and support for teachers, it’s been a process five years in the making. 

“Like I said before, at the end of 2014 in the Spring, we were at 33% reading accuracy for third grade,” said Peyton. “Today, we are at 52% reading at or above level. It takes all that from play in Pre-K all the way up to see that kind of growth in 5 years.”

Third grade also was noted for having the lower rate of chronic absenteeism at 29.4%. By the end of the year, Peyton felt third graders would exceed last year’s reading rate of 55% by the end of the year as they were only 3 points away halfway through.

“What would you say about third grade’s lower absent rate,” asked Margaret Beavers. 

“We have looked and looked and looked,” said Peyton. “Classroom teachers, transient populations of students coming and going. We’ve looked in everything and it seems consistent across all schools.”

“Can we check the 4th grade next year to see if its the class of students,” asked Mitchem. 

“We did that last year and it stayed consistent with the third grade,” said Superintendent Carolyn Falin. 

“They’re starting to read really well in the third grade,” said Beavers. “It might be that they want to come back and learn at that age.”