Nettleton Steam students focus on NASA this year

Layla Westbrook, a sixth-grade Nettleton Steam student, designs a prototype of astronaut gloves that would be worn in space.

JONESBORO — This year, Nettleton STEAM students are shooting for the stars.

STEAM is all things NASA on every grade level this year, and for good reason, too. STEAM Principal Cathelene Gray said the school was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer, and are anxiously awaiting to hear the results.

“This summer, we found out about a NASA proposal,” Gray said. “If we wrote a proposal, and if we were accepted, NASA would send us a flight downlink and the students at the school would get to meet the astronauts and have a live question-and-answer session.”

No other school in Arkansas has ever received a downlink from NASA, which will enable students to communicate in real time with astronauts on the International Space Station.

Gray said the proposal has been submitted and administrators are waiting to hear back from NASA on a date the students will be meeting with astronauts.

STEAM Curriculum Director Kelli Cochran designed the 70-page proposal, which outlined a year long curriculum for students to explore all things NASA.

“I designed this with using NASA lessons already available,” Cochran said, noting each grade takes a year-long essential question and tries to find solutions, Cochran said. Every subject is incorporated into the lessons.

As the event has begun to unfold and community partners learned of it, it has had a snowball effect in the state.

Arkansas State University who’s P20 Initiative organization often partners with Nettleton Steam and other schools in the area, contacted Arkansas PBS, and Arkansas Ideas.

Arkansas PBS will be doing a documentary on the NASA downlink and the NASA curriculum, involving students in the filming process.

“We drew a storyboard for us to show professional development for all teachers in the state. This gets the message out about project-based learning,” Gray said. “This will also include footage of the NASA downlink event.”

Arkansas PBS will be on site at STEAM to broadcast the NASA downlink event all over the state.

Arkansas State University also connected STEAM with Jonathan Reeves, news director for KASU, who will be doing podcasts explaining how project-based learning is changing education.

“I have been working with Kelli since she is the curriculum director, and we will be doing Zoom calls with students and faculty,” Reeves said. “We will release a series of interviews tackling different aspects of this project.”

STEAM educators have also reached out to include Jan Paschal, founder of Every Child is Ours, to include partner schools in Kanana, South Africa, Acuna, Mexico, Pine Ridge, S.D., and Tilton, N.H., with whom Paschal works with directly.

“When they asked us to be involved we were so excited,” Paschal said. “We want to always offer the kids a way of looking at things they wouldn’t normally be a part of,” she said. “We are very eager to work with them.”

Gray said they are trying to make the event available internationally and let all the children participate. She plans on allowing children across the state who choose to participate and view the live event to submit questions.

“We will pick the top five questions,” she said.

Cochran said this is going to be a once in a lifetime event for students.

“It’s amazing to think about everyone getting to talk to the astronauts,” she said. “We want to share this with everyone. It gives me chills thinking of the possibilities.”