Thirty-five imaginative La Cañada High School students used a variety of contraptions, from bungee cords to hand cranks, to launch a variety of projectiles such as tennis balls, sponges and shoeboxes, skyward on Friday in the Mars Yard at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
For the fifth year, LCHS students participated in the JPL Space Academy, an extracurricular program held in the fall that offers participants a real-world experience requiring them to work on their engineering skills — as well as business, communication and collaboration abilities.
“This is supposed to be different from what they learn in schools, where you have all the information, you just have to calculate,” said Art Chmielewski, a project manager at JPL and LCHS dad. “With this, it’s your imagination. You can make it hard, but then you work [on it] at night, or you can make it simple, but then maybe it will not work as well. But it’s up to you. I don’t give them grades — it’s not for me, it’s for their learning.”
The program — which is overseen on the high school front by teacher Nate Fulmer — has evolved to also include a business component, with a stock simulation.
“And their peers are judging them by buying or selling their stocks,” Chmielewski said.
“So they have to learn to be good communicators because it’s the other kids who buy the stocks, based on their presentations and their confidence, just like in the real world.”
The academy was sponsored by a grant from Southern California Edison, secured by Vicki Schwartz, head of the Sister Cities Organization. The La Cañada Flintridge Sister Cities group recently found its match, entering into a partnership with Villanueva de la Cañada in Madrid, Spain.
The next step, Chmielewski said, will be to launch a similar program with the high school there.
“It’s something that I get really excited about,” said sophomore Bardia Youssefi, whose team was preparing to fling a cache of tennis balls as high as possible.
“Every time someone asks me, ‘What are you doing Friday?’ I get to say, ‘I have JPL.’ I feel kind of proud of that, and I’m proud of this program.”