Fourth, fifth graders launch rockets during YMCA’s Summer My Way

NILES — A parade of rocket scientists exited Northside Child Development Center on Thursday morning. Carrying their rockets, the scientists made their way to the designated launch pad. The launch specialist, Theodore Schrader was waiting with hand sanitizer for each scientist to use before they pressed the all-important button to send their rocket skyward.

The scientists are in the fourth and fifth grades, and are currently enrolled in the Niles-Buchanan YMCA’s Summer My Way program.

This week the students explored the science of space. The week was themed “Out of This World,” and culminated in a morning rocket launch in the field behind the school at 2020 N. Fifth St.

One of the young boys holding the remains of his launched rocket told his classmate, “I can’t wait to show my mom what we did today.”

About 15 rockets were prepared for launch over the past two days, with the help of Schrader, the schools’ designated STEM activities instructor. Schrader has loved building and launching rockets since he was in school aged himself. Beginning with making his own models and being involved with the Science Olympiad program in junior high, he never stopped exploring STEM.

“Whenever there’s some sort of STEM activity going on at Eastside Connections, and they need help, I normally end up there,” Schrader said.

The STEM Club at Eastside Connections launched around 60 rockets last year. The Summer My Way fourth and fifth graders had about 20 participants for this launch, which gave Schrader more attention and time to assist them.

Working with students is something Schrader does through the year, as well, as a substitute teacher with Eastside Connections.

Janie Townsend, one of those involved in the programming with Summer My Way, was excited to see the participants’ rockets go up on Thursday.

“They spent two days building the rockets and learning how to build them step-by-step,” Townsend said. “They do it all themselves. Today is the culmination of them coming out.”

There were many other activities planned for this past week’s focus of space.

“Depending on their grade level, they did earth collages, solar slime and moon sand,” Townsend said. “Yesterday, they made astronaut suits out of aluminum foil. They’re doing flying saucers and playing a game called ‘Defy Gravity.’ They did an alien-themed escape room, and they are learning about the solar system and the planets all week.”

The Summer My Way program chooses a different theme each week. The program runs for six weeks, beginning June 29.

“We have crafts, activities and STEM activities throughout the week,” said Nicole Mireles, director of youth development with the Niles-Buchanan YMCA. “It’s all age, grade-level appropriate. That’s why we have the fourth and fifth graders doing the rockets.”

The program directors this year see the need for these types of activities even more than in years past.

“It’s even more important right now because they haven’t been in school for months,” Mireles said.

As the Summer My Way participants launched their rockets in turn, cheers came from the rest of the younger participants when each launch was successful. Even running across the field to gather the remains from their rockets was done with a smile on their faces, seeing their work travel so far.

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