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Online program gives kids a chance to socialize and learn

by: TIMES PHOTO:JAIME VALDEZ - Tim Batiuk from the California Connections Academy, shows Cara Stasiewicz, a first-grader at Connections Academy, how to launch a model plane. Look, up in the sky!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Well, a glider, actually.

On Friday, students from the Oregon Connections Academy online charter school met at the Tigard Grange to learn about flight as part of a new aviation club.

Students spent the afternoon making simple wooden gliders, which they released that afternoon near Pacific Highway.

The idea for the club was the brainchild of Tim Batiuk, who works with Connections Academy in California.

“We are trying to get kids involved in outside-of-the-classroom science projects,” he said.

Batiuk and Rocco Ferrario, a Napa, Calif., science teacher, adapted their lessons about flight and gliders into Connections Academy’s science curriculum and flew to Portland to put together a new aviation club similar to programs the pair run in California.

“They are chunks of balsa wood and, like magic, it stays there in the air,” Ferrario said. “It’s like moving poetry.”

The National Free Flight Society — an organization of glider enthusiasts — donated kits to students to make their own gliders. Students learned about the four forces of flight — lift, gravity, thrust and drag. The result, said ORCA third-grade teacher John Meyer, is a fun activity that helps students learn, without them realizing it.

“We are tying in lessons on weather, math, the history of flight and where that has taken our country. It can tie into every aspect of a child’s education,” Meyer said. “Whether it’s kindergarten or high school, they’re all interested. Any kid is interested in airplanes.”

That’s especially true for fourth-grader Evan Stasiewicz and his younger sister, Cara.

“Just making the plane was my favorite part,” he said, launching his half-finished, unpainted glider. “Every time I go to the library, I get books about fighter jets and planes. I like the Navy and most of the vehicles they use are planes.”

Evan said he was going to name his plane “The Dragonfly.”

“Because it looks like a dragonfly,” he said.

“Mine doesn’t,” Cara added. “Mine is just an airplane.”

The club’s curriculum is aligned to national STEM standards designed to increase participation in science, technology, engineering and math programs, Keppler said. “We are touching on physics concepts that students learn in elementary school, like gravity, and we are building on that.”

‘Try to get kids involved’

by: TIMES PHOTO:JAIME VALDEZ - Robert Cousineau, a 8th grader at Connections Academy, lightly sands his model plane during a field trip at the Tigard Grange for Oregon Connections Academy students. The event was an opportunity for students to get involved in a new aviation club at the school. Oregon Connections Academy is different from a typical school. The online public charter school is based in the tiny Scio School District, but has students across the state who take classes remotely on their computers.

The academy’s online system allows students to work at their own pace, but doesn’t give them many opportunities to socialize with classmates, said teacher Carole Keppler.

“We always try to get kids involved and socialize,” Keppler said. “It’s a big part of what we do. We do field trips for elementary school students every week. There’s always something going on.”

Field trips are a popular form of socialization for academy students, Meyer said, but so are clubs like the new aviation group.

“We are always trying to have that personal interaction with them so you aren’t just a voice on the phone or on the computer, you’re an actual person,” Meyer said.

Get-togethers like this one can draw families from all across the state, Keppler said.

“I’ve had field trips where students drive up from Klamath Falls to Beaverton to come,” Keppler said.

A majority of events, field trips and club activities happen in the Portland and Salem

areas, Keppler said.

Just what the aviation club will participate in after its inaugural flight on Friday are up to members, Meyer said, and it won’t be limited to Tigard.

“The field trips and clubs go all over the state,” he said. “It is here now, and if there is interest in Bend, it will go down there.”

Plans are in the works to hold a similar event in October, and throughout the year in places around the state, said academy spokeswoman Dawn Phillips. The hope is that some students will participate in indoor glider competitions this fall.

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