At the Crossroads of Discovery
Crossroads Elementary isn't your average school. Not only was this school the first in Minnesota to participate in an International Space Station downlink interview, but it's also a NASA Explorer School.

The International Space Station over Earth

The International Space Station orbits above the Earth. Image Credit: NASA

As the students at Crossroads prepared for the February 8 downlink with the astronauts onboard the ISS, they took time to reflect on the many ways they had already shown they had what it takes to succeed.

Fifth and sixth grade students created a proposal for an experiment to be sent up to the Space Station (it didn't make it that far, but it did experience "microgravity" on the KC-135). They wanted to explore how toy tops spin in microgravity. They wondered if the change in gravity would affect the movement. They worked up the proposal, submitted it, and were excited to learn that it was accepted. Students worked hard on the project that focused on measuring acceleration. The measurements were very precise -- calculated to the millionth of a second -- yet these young scientists thrived on the challenge of it all.

As part of that project, teacher Alissa Kuseske took a ride on the KC-135 Reduced Gravity Aircraft -- also called the Weightless Wonder -- to simulate what it's like to be in microgravity. Kuseske didn't do this just for the fun of it; she was taking the students' experiments along with her to see if their hypothesis about how tops might spin in microgravity was true.

Last winter, teachers Frannie Becquer and Kiana Thornton traveled to Lake Placid, New York, to participate in a study of snow and ice. They brought enthusiasm and new information back to their students, who also tried projects with Minnesota snow.

"The kids know they can do anything if they put their minds to it," said Kuseske. "I tell them that determination is as important as education, and that the two go hand in hand. When I see students enjoying the success of achievement, it makes me happy. It's gratifying to see how much they care."

Alissa Kuseske floating onboard the KC-135

Teacher Alissa Kuseske has a good time while flying on the KC-135. Image Credit: NASA

Kuseske knows the value of encouragement. As a child, her father encouraged her to build models of Mercury and Apollo rockets. It made her want to learn more. As a third-grade student, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and she saw her teacher cry, Kuseske's life was changed. "I'll never ever forget that," she said. "And maybe that's one reason I'm teaching today."

When Crossroads students participated in the ISS Downlink, it was a special long-distance phone call. They were able to see and speak to Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov. They asked the questions they devised after weeks of research. And once again, they showed the world that they can do anything they make up their minds to do.

In January 2005, Kuseske visited NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in Washington, DC. As the representative of her fifth and sixth grade students, she was coached by the students on what to wear (a black power suit), what to say (how excited the students are) and what to see (everything). When O'Keefe heard of the activities Crossroads students were involved in, he commented to Kuseske that her children are so involved in their projects, that they really think they're explorers. Kuseske responded, "Think they're explorers? They know they are!"

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Maggie Griffin/NASA Education Technology Services