It’s “to infinity and beyond” for technology, science and math education at Park Creek Elementary School in Dalton.

Park Creek is one of 29 schools nationwide and eight in the Southeast to be chosen as a 2007 NASA “Explorer School.” Park Creek will incorporate content from the space agency into science and math courses over the next three years.

“Four teachers and I will begin a one-week professional development workshop July 15 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” said Karen Roark, assistant principal at Park Creek. “We will interview scientists, engineers, and astronauts. They say it will be one of the most exciting periods of our professional lives.”

The real benefactors will the Park Creek’s 576 students, who will have the opportunity to take part in active participation in research, problem-solving and design challenges relating to NASA’s missions. Challenges will be grade-specific and support national and state standards, according to the program’s Web site,

Principal Kathie Mosteller and teachers Angela Finn, Alan Martineaux, Terri Townsend and Chris Harton will participate in the summer training. The information they bring back will be used to inspire Park Creek students’ learning in science, technology, engineering, math and geography.

“In the past, some other schools’ students have gotten to send science projects into space with the space shuttle,” Roark said. “Other students have been invited onto the launch pad. Astronauts have also visited schools.”

Schools in the NASA Explorer Schools (NES) program will be able to take advantage of a strategic plan the teachers develop to use technology grants of up to $17,500 over the three-year period of the partnership.

“This program enables schools and their communities to partner with NASA to develop the nation’s future work force,” NES program manager Rob Lasalvia said in a press release. “It is today’s students who will help make the nation’s vision of sending humans back to the moon, then on to Mars and beyond, a reality.”

The NES program began in 2003 in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association. The program targets schools in grades four through nine. More than 200 teams representing all 50 states have participated in the program.

Roark said she learned about the program over the years during various science education activities, and she participated in the “Teacher in Space” program one year at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. Her classes have also taken part in online conversations with NASA representatives via NASA’s Web site.

“The process of application was very lengthy,” Roark said. “We had to communicate our school improvement goals and outline what we want to accomplish with our students. We’re always looking for opportunities to improve math and science scores. This program has highly competitive selection criteria. I was told they received twice as many applications this year as the year before. We’re thrilled to be able to offer these real world applications of science and technology for our students.”

Dalton is one of three schools who will work with NES coordinators Clarence Bostick and Priscilla Moore, both of Kennedy Space Center, who visited the school on Friday. The other schools in the group are Bear Creek Middle School in Fairburn and Flamingo Elementary in Hialeah, Fla.

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