HISD students earn top award for summer rocket launch

This summer, while many high school students were still enjoying their vacation, students from HISD’s Booker T. Washington High School were traveling with their teacher to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico to attempt to launch a rocket they built as a classroom assignment.

Only five high schools qualified to travel to WSMR this summer, and this was Washington’s fifth attempt. But for the first time this year, the students’ vehicle successfully left the launch tower — marking only the second time a high school has ever reached that milestone. The students received the SystemsGo Goddard Level Diamond Award for their achievement at a special ceremony held on Oct. 16.

“Houston ISD should be proud,” said retired U.S. Navy Captain Gene Garrett, who serves as president of the SystemsGo board. “This shows the students’ ability to take knowledge and research and put it together into a project, and be successful.”

The budding engineers were in the High Altitude Rocketry class taught by Dr. Nghia Le, part of a state-wide STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) curriculum called SystemsGo Aeroscience. Students start out building small model rockets as they learn the principles of flight. Eventually, they move up in scale to vehicles that can carry a one-pound payload one mile high. The next level involves reaching the sound barrier. The highest level — Goddard — requires students to design and build a rocket that launches at the U.S. Army-run WSMR facility.

Dr. Le said the project-based nature of the course allows students to drive their own learning. “I don’t really teach,” he explained. “I guide them.”

The SystemsGo Aeroscience program began in Fredericksburg High School in 1996 under the direction of teacher Brett Williams. It is now used in about 40 high schools in Texas, and next year will begin expansion to neighboring states.

“I hope the students carry on with what they learned here,” Dr. Le said, noting that many of his students have gone on to top engineering schools and are now working in industry and aerospace. “To me that is what it is all about, to make sure the students are successful.”

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