On November 1, eager middle school students boarded a bus at 7:30am at Holy Family Academy in Inverness. Despite the early hour, the excitement was palpable. These students have been studying the science and design of high altitude balloons, and were ready to launch "HALO 1."
"Our teachers are leaders in implementing innovative, 'hands-on/minds-on' STEM modules," explained Mrs. Kate O'Brien, Principal. "These units, taught weekly in a 2.5 hour block, are in addition to the Academy's math, science and technology classes, and significantly expand and enhance our STEM curriculum by introducing design and engineering." Holy Family Academy students explore units in Forensic Science and Computer Programming in addition to the High Altitude Balloon Launch. Through collaboration with Harper College, these weekly STEM classes meet on Harper's campus.
The HALO 1 team, facilitated by teachers Mr. Brian Prus and Mrs. Pam Gannon, worked in seven cross-functional teams to prepare for the launch. Students calculated and planned all flight details in accordance with FAA and FCC requirements. The payload included a GoPro camera to record the flight, and students monitored the flight path via satellite GPS/Google Earth. The balloon was anticipated to reach 90,000 feet into the stratosphere.
An analysis of all the variables dictated that the launch originate 2 hours west of Inverness in Stockton, Illinois. An unsuspecting, but willing recruit for the launch team was Mr. Jeff Licht, driver for Davidsmeyer Bus Company, who said, "I've driven hundreds of students to science museums, but never before have my student passengers been the actual scientists."
An added highlight of the day was Mr. Prus' on-air conversation with Tom Skilling, Meteorologist on WGN Radio's Garry Meier Show. Students streamed the interview on their laptops, and were thrilled that a scientist as prestigious as Tom Skilling validated their hard work.
It was a remarkable day for Holy Family Catholic Academy teachers and students--a day these young scientists will not soon forget.