An out-of-this-world experience

Jim Hill Middle School teacher Rhonda Evanoff had the experience of a lifetime when she spent a week at Space Camp in June.

The camp, located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., offers teachers from all over the United States and the world to see what life in space is really like.

Evanoff and the other teachers participated in the same training that NASA astronauts go through, including rigorous exercises such as high-performance jet simulation, scenario-based space missions, land and water survival training and interactive flight dynamics programs.

On one simulated lunar mission to Mars, Evanoff got to be the flight commander.

“To see the angles and the temperatures and the math stuff and the science come together was just amazing,” said Evanoff.

Evanoff said she learned so much that she will eventually be able to try in the classroom, too.

Teachers were asked to come up with their own heat shields to keep an egg from cooking, an experiment that could be repeated in an elementary science classroom. The teachers were also asked to filter out acids and make water drinkable, rather like occurred on the Apollo 13 mission.

The teachers also met interesting and influential people, including Homer Hickam, author of popular books such as “Rocket Boys” and “October Skies.”

“He was incredible!” said Evanoff, who ordered all of his books to use in her sixth-grade reading classroom.

Evanoff also was allowed to keep her flight suit, which she will be able to wear to presentations. The flight suit includes a “Flight Commander Evanoff” nametag and a badge that those in her group of teachers designed. Because their group was called “Harmony,” Evanoff’s group chose a sign depicting harmony incorporating the flags of all the countries the teachers in the group were from, Evanoff said. There were five other countries represented in addition to the American flag.

Evanoff said she enjoyed meeting and working with teachers from all over the world. She discovered that they are doing many of the same things in their classrooms to get kids interested in math and science.

During the week-long camp, the teachers worked hard and were on the go from early in the morning until late in the evening, but there was a fun energy to it all, said Evanoff.

Evanoff heard about the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy when she was teaching at Perkett Elementary. Until last year, when the program was de-funded, fifth-graders in the school district attended Starbase, a science, technology engineering and mathematics-oriented program at Minot Air Force Base. An instructor there told her about the Space Camp and had nothing but good things to say about it. Evanoff also had attended a camp in New York where others mentioned the Honeywell Academy. She was chosen for the experience after submitting an essay describing her experience as a teacher and the activities she does with her students in the classroom and in the community.

Evanoff is a high-energy teacher who believes kids learn better by doing hands-on activities.

“That’s kind of how my classroom is focused,” said Evanoff, who also ran the Roosevelt Park Zoo camps for years and has been active in programs for children at her church.

Evanoff will be teaching reading this year, but said she will also try to incorporate science into reading, since she believes in integrating the two subjects.

Evanoff has been a teacher for 21 years. In addition to Jim Hill and Perkett, she has also taught at Burlington-Des Lacs Elementary.

The Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy is a scholarship program designed to help middle school math and science teachers become more effective educators in science, technology, engineering and math, and enrich the curriculum in their classrooms.

More information about how to apply for the program can be found at (