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Students from St Clere’s School, Essex, travel to the US for an Advanced Space Academy course every year. G&T Update talked to the trip’s organiser, G&T coordinator Ken Lewis.

About St Clere’s St Clere’s is an 11 to 16 mixed comprehensive school in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex. Every year pupils from the school’s G&T programme go for an Advanced Space Academy course at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. G&T coordinator Ken Lewis has been arranging this exciting annual visit since 2001. Just 14 pupils went on the first trip, but 40 pupils and four members of staff have recently returned from this year’s trip.

Pupils who will be sitting higher-level mathematics and those who are taking separate sciences at GCSE level are invited to take part. Ken has also organised the visit for a number of other schools who have selected their pupils based on their key stage results or their achievements in technology. The common thread is that the visit is part of a school’s G&T programme. On the latest trip, 31 pupils came from St Clere’s and nine from another local school. In October 2006, Ken will be planning the trip for three local schools in addition to his own.

The students have to finance the trip for themselves but the school encourages fundraising such as a sponsored quiz competition; one group carried out a bag-packing day at a local supermarket. Ken also manages to attract sponsorship from local businesses that helps to bring down the cost to £1,450 inclusive for the 10-day trip (flights, hotel, space camp, meals and tours).
The school governors have been very supportive in making sure that deserving pupils do not miss out because of personal financial hardship. St Clere’s is part of the BP Ltd Schools Link Scheme which provided some sponsorship for the trip. Some parents who work for large corporations can occasionally get individual sponsorship for their child.

Space camp challenges pupils with hands-on exposure to mathematics and science that is at or above their present level

Space academy The 10-day visit is centred in the Advanced Space Academy course where the students undertake astronaut training. Among the highlights of the week are: scuba diving (in order to experience the feeling of weightlessness while working in space); ‘area 51’ where the pupils complete physical and mental tasks which require them to work as a team; and then the final six-hour mock mission.

The mission involves pupils using the training they have undertaken as pilots or mission specialists in order to take a simulated space shuttle into orbit, repair a satellite and then return safely home. The pilots use their navigational skills and are responsible for the safety of their crew in space. On the shuttle there are checklists to complete and split-second decisions to be made, all while monitoring the activities of the crew.

The mission specialists are instructed in aeronautical engineering basics so that they can make repairs. During missions they participate in space station science experiments. As a team they are given some basic training in emergency procedures and space-specific medical considerations.

Space camp challenges pupils with hands-on exposure to mathematics and science that is at or above their present level. This will stretch them beyond their comfort zone to find skills they didn’t know they had. Ken explains: ‘They quickly learn the importance of teamwork and develop leadership skills. When given the opportunity, and without their parents and teachers to lean on, they realise that they can actually think for themselves and make decisions.’

The pupils also experience some of the history and culture of North Alabama with organised tours of the area.

The long-term benefits
Ken vaunts the long-term benefits of space camp: ‘The experience remains with the pupils long after the camp session is over and among the benefits and skills they will take away with them are: teamwork, responsibility, decision making, problem solving, positive self-image and new perspectives; pupils start to appreciate the importance of their school studies and how topics learned are actually relevant to the real world. It also makes them realise the vast number of careers that actually require mathematics and science skills.’

Further information
Visit the Space and Rocket Center at www.spacecamp.com. Programmes and visits are available for children from the age of nine including aquatic training and robotics.

  • Astronaut training for children aged 9-11: space; space and aviation; space and robotics.
  • Shuttle mission training for ages 12-14.
  • Advanced Space Academy for ages 15-18: Extended duration missions for: pilot; pilot/scuba; mission specialist.
  • The space camp and aviation challenges are also available for visually- and hearing-impaired students.

If you want information on organising a trip for your G&T pupils then please contact Ken at [email protected]

See the opposite page for details of a competition for students to win a trip to the Johnson Space Center in Florida.

For schools not wishing to travel so far afield, the Euro Space Center in Belgium offers similar opportunities www.eurospacecenter.be

This article first appeared in 101 Playground Games – Dec 2005

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