Three teachers from the William S. Hart Union High School District have been named by NASA and the SETI Institute to fly on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Marisa Heflin (Arroyo Seco), Shelley Turski (La Mesa) and Stacy Wade-Robb (Rio Norte) now make 17 Hart School District teachers to fly on the airborne observatory.
Officially named an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) by NASA, Heflin, Turski and Wade-Robb will fly on the converted Boeing 747 sometime in the fall of 2021. They will spend a week in Palmdale, training and working out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. They are scheduled to fly on two missions, which conducts research submitted years in advance from scientists representing the world’s leading universities. Once the missions are complete, they will return to the classroom with curriculum provided by NASA they will share with her students.
“Science teachers having the opportunity to interact with scientists and be a part of their scientific studies as those studies are being rolled out is priceless,” said David LeBarron, Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Hart District. “The knowledge and skills learned, along with the teacher’s excitement for science, returns to their classrooms with them and their students benefit.”
The SETI Institute has selected 30 teachers from 10 states as 2021 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors. AAA is a professional development program for science teachers designed to improve science teaching and increase student learning and STEM engagement. This year’s expanded AAA program includes not only high school teachers but also middle school and community college teachers.
“Over its history, our NASA-funded AAA program has impacted tens of thousands of high school students through the immersive and inspirational experience of their teachers,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute. “This powerful STEM program will allow the SETI Institute to help bring NASA science into classrooms across the country.”
AAA teachers receive training in astrophysics and planetary science. Their training includes a week-long STEM immersion experience at a NASA astronomy research facility such as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). After their training, the AAAs teach a physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute that connects curriculum concepts to NASA- and SOFIA-enabled research. WestEd education consultants assess the impact of the specialized curriculum module on student STEM learning and engagement. Past evaluations of the AAA program have shown statistically significant improvements in performance and STEM engagement among students whose teachers participated in the program.
“We are grateful that NASA will be funding the AAA program through 2025 and are especially excited to be adding middle school and community college teachers and their students,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program lead. “These teachers will use their professional development and SOFIA experiences to convey real-world content to their students that illuminate the value of scientific research and the wide variety of STEM career paths available to them.”
The school districts and organizations participating in the AAA program during 2021 are: • Anaheim Union High School District, California • Anchorage School District, Alaska • Anne Arundel Community College, Maryland • Canyons School District, Utah • Chabot College, California • Cobb County Schools, Georgia • Fayette County Public Schools, Kentucky • Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, California • Fort Zumwalt School District, Missouri • Harmony Public Schools, Texas • William S. Hart Union High School District, California • MiraCosta Community College District, California • Northside Independent School District (San Antonio), Texas • San Mateo Community College District, California • Suffolk County Community College, New York • The Meadows School, Nevada • Washoe County School District, Nevada