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SARATOGA SPRINGS – A group of local students recently took a break from esoteric calculus and SAT prep to learn some more practical real world skills.

The Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar program decided to do something a little different for its yearly feedback session, during which they find out what their senior students like and dislike about the program for the sake of future improvements.  Responding to a complaint that has been common from students over the years that they did not learn enough about handling certain social situations, Mary Gavin and Kristie Roohan organized an “etiquette dinner” that would help their students learn to be more comfortable in such situations, in addition to giving them an opportunity to give their feedback on the program. 

Held at Sperry’s Restaurant in downtown Saratoga Springs, part of the goal of the dinner was to teach the students about restaurant etiquette, including using menus, how to order, which utensils to use, among a variety of other things.  Beyond all of that, the broader goal of the night was help the students learn to feel comfortable in social situations that might take place in environments similar to Sperry’s, whether they be meetings, interviews, parties, or any other similar sort of occasion. 

“It was so much better than we could’ve expected,” Mary Gavin said of the dinner.  “They loved it.” 

Students were encouraged to ask any questions they had about anything during the night, and they asked plenty, as many of them had never had experience with restaurants like Sperry’s before.  According to Gavin, questions ranged from wanting to know about certain menu items that they had never heard of, to asking if it was okay to ask to take their leftovers home.  To their credit, Gavin said that the wait staff at Sperry’s were courteous and grateful throughout the night, helping students with anything and everything they needed or wanted to know about.

The dinner also gave the program organizers their annual opportunity to solicit feedback about the program from the outgoing senior students.  According to Gavin, students expressed their satisfaction with the program as a whole, in particular with the mentors that they have been working with, while also expressing dissatisfaction with their mentors’ tendency to be gone certain days on official business, leaving them without guidance.  Gavin said that they will be taking that latter criticism into account moving forward.

Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar is a ten-year-old not-for-profit program that works with “financially-disadvantaged” students in the Saratoga Springs school system by assigning them mentors who help them to finish high school and prepare for college.  Many of the students in the program end up being the first in their families to enter college, according to Gavin.

Ultimately, Gavin said that one thing stood out to her the most as a sign that the night had been a success.

“I think the highlight was we didn’t see a single cell phone the entire night,” Gavin said.

What do you think of SSAS's etiquette dinner idea?  Should more school program's teach practical social skills?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

All photos in this story are by PhotoAndGraphic.com.

Published in Education

GALWAY – Two local teachers got the opportunity of a lifetime this past weekend when they took to the sky and gazed at the stars on NASA’s airborne observatory, SOFIA. 

Galway Central School District first grade teacher Edie Frisbie and Earth science teacher Paul Levin flew with NASA research scientists onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s only flying observatory, on March 4.  They made two trips on SOFIA, taking of from one the craft’s two home bases in Palmdale, CA. 

For Frisbie and Levin, it was an occasion long in the making.  The two educators were given the opportunity though the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program, a program put together by the SETI Institute, a non-profit organization committed to public outreach and scientific education, in conjunction with NASA.  Frisbie and Levin first submitted their proposal for why they should to fly on SOFIA all the way back in December 2014, and were finally chosen to fly a year ago in March 2016. 

“It was one of the best trips I have ever taken,” Levin said.  “There were so many different things we saw and experience.  We got to meet the scientist who discovered the black hole, sat through NASA preflight briefings… Everyone on the plane had a great backstory and they were all willing to share with us.”

“It was the single most amazing experience of my entire life,” Frisbie said.

Part the educators’ involvement with the program was focused was performing community outreach to share information about astronomy and SOFIA, both with their students and with the public.  Before their flights this weekend, Frisbie and Levin gave presentation to both of their classes, as well as at an event for the Capital Region Master Teaching Program.  They are currently planning to give further presentations about infrared astronomy and other topics to the Eastern Section of the Science Teacher Association of New York State, at the Museum of Science and Innovation in Schenectady, and in their classrooms. 

During Frisbie and Levin’s flights, the researchers onboard were using SOFIA’s telescope to investigate a number of things.  Chiefly, mission of each flight was to observe star formations, in hopes of discovering why some galaxies are capable of creating naround 200 new stars in a year, while other galaxies like the Milky Way only produce about 10.  Beyond that, they also observed supermassive black holes, one of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto, and M51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. 

Almost as striking as the images they were seeing to Frisbie and Levin was the passion of all the scientists involved.  According to the two educators, all onboard had PhD’s, and were experts in the very specific things they were there to do, and their passion for what they were doing was clear.

“Without one of them,” Frisbie said.  “The flight wouldn’t be possible.”

“From the pilot, to the safety engineers to the scientist,” Levin said.  “Everyone was excited to be there and you could tell that they were having fun with what they were doing.”

SOFIA itself is a modified 747 aircraft, with the rear door cut out and replaced with an infrared telescope.  Inside the craft, images viewed by the telescope are transmitted to a screen for the researchers onboard to observe.  While Frisbie and Levin’s flights maxed out at 43,000 feet up, SOFIA is capable of going as high 45,000, the standard maximum height for a 747.  The telescope that SOFIA is equipped with is appropriately state-of-the-art, as it is equipped the Far Infrared Field-Imaging Line Spectrometer, or FIFI-LS.  Frisbie said that SOFIA’s is currently the only operational FIFI-LS in the entire world.

According to Frisbie, SOFIA, as a flying observatory, has many advantages over traditional sorts of observatories.  Unlike ground-based locations, its view is not blocked by clouds or weather since it flies so high in the air.  Additionally, unlike satellite-based observatories, which require costly and time-consuming space flights to update with new technology, SOFIA can be updated quickly and efficiently while on the ground.   

Frisbie’s hope for their involvement with this program going forward is that it makes learning about space more concrete for their students, and inspires them to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.

“If someone from around here can do that,” Frisbie said.  “You can do anything.”

Published in Education

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A team of Maple Avenue Middle School students will be competing in a regional competition to determine who will go to the upcoming U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 27th National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C.  The event will be held on March 4, at General Electric National Research in Niskayuna.  The winners of the event will receive an all-expense-paid trip to D.C. to compete at the national level representing the Capital Region of New York.

The team from Maple Ave. is made up of the following students: 8th graders jack Murratti, Max Su, Stephen Verral, and Jason Zheng; 7th graders Isabelle Girolamo, Hana Nguyen, Jack Maiellaro, and Ethan Murnan; and 6th grader Andrew Hope.  Their team’s coach is Maple Ave. science teacher John Scrivo.

“This is our third year participating and we made tremendous strides last year,” Scrivo said.  “Finishing second in the car race and reaching the semifinals in the academic competition.  This has set the bar high for this year’s team to try to improve on last year’s success.”

At this weekend’s regional event, the team will take part in two events.  The first is a weighted car design challenge, wherein the team must design a small car powered by a falling weight, with the goal of getting the car to go 10 meters.  This challenge is strictly designed for the regional middle school level event, and has no impact on the team moving on to the national competition.  The second event, and the one that will decide if the team moves on, is an academic question-and-answer style competition.  According to the DOE’s official website, teams will “tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math.”

The team’s preparations for the event have involved in-class and out-of-class work.  In class, they have practiced for the academic challenge by answering questions using a simulated version of the buzzer system that will be used at the event.  Out of class, they have been working on the designs that they will use in the falling weight challenge.  This has involved not just the design for the car itself, but also the launcher that will get the car moving, as well as testing the ideal amount of weight to use. 

After the regional event on Saturday, the national event will take place in D.C. from April 27 to May 1.  The National Science Bowl has been held annually since 1991, and draws more than 14,000 middle school and high school student each year. 

Published in Education

BALLSTON SPA - When Superstorm Sandy struck the New York coast last fall, the area was inundated with offers of help and supplies from citizens all around the country. But as the media’s coverage of the disaster began to fade, so did the aid from onlookers.

Published in News
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