The Sky's the Limit in Victor Valley
Discover how local opportunities help students contribute to the world of science and space exploration in a meaningful way.
Students in the Victor Valley have a leg up when it comes to obtaining a quality education, as the AAE, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math)-driven charter school with a rigorous college-preparatory program, is located in their backyard.
Based in Apple Valley, the AAE has grown in size since its inception in 1997 from 200 to approximately 1,450 students. It is one of only two charter schools operated by the Lewis Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit founded by Rick Piercy in 1992 that provides hands-on instructional programs for elementary through high school students. Their other campus, Norton Science and Language Academy, is a dual immersion/STEAM focused school located in San Bernardino.
Reaching for the Stars
Through the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) program, scientists, teachers and more than 50,000 students collaborate using radio astronomy to discover new information about the universe. The program comprises 350 schools in 44 states, 14 countries and three U.S. territories.
Founded on the commitment that it must provide students with “real science and real education,” according to Lisa Lamb, president and CEO of the Lewis Center, GAVRT requires that the data collected by students contribute to NASA's scientific work – and that’s certainly been the case so far.
For example, students remotely control a 34-meter radio telescope that’s located at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Additionally, since the GAVRT Program began, students have been part of the Jupiter Quest Mission, which focuses on solving the planet’s “fundamental puzzles,” and they recently supplied ground-based radio observations to serve Juno, a Jupiter polar orbiter.
"GAVRT students are collecting data related to the radio brightness of Jupiter at a frequency that reveals information about high-energy electrons trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic field,” says Dr. Steven Levin, GAVRT lead scientist and Juno Project scientist. “That data is useful for our Juno Project, as it is being used to protect the spacecraft and help us understand and contextualize what we’re seeing in Juno’s data. We’re proud to say that GAVRT students are getting a lot out of this program educationally while simultaneously collecting information that’s helpful for NASA scientists.”
While GAVRT is a worldwide program, many AAE students enjoy the benefit of having access to coursework designed to enhance their experience.
“GAVRT is woven into much of AAE’s science curriculum, but older students can dive deeper by taking more specialized courses in space science and astronomy,” Lamb says.
“AAE also offers exploratory and after-school classes for elementary students that include a focus on GAVRT, so that gives our youngest students a brief introduction and often piques their interest in the program,” she says.
Lamb also says the Lewis Center is continuing to partner with NASA and other organizations to find ways to benefit the Victor Valley.
And that’s not all. The Lewis Center and Apple Valley Unified School District (AVUSD) are working to bring permanent NASA museum exhibits to their Apple Valley Center for Innovation (AVCI) campus, which is located just a few miles from each facility. This will feature exhibits focusing on the missions of NASA’s Deep Space Network – just one more opportunity for students and the public to connect with and learn more about science.
The Lewis Center has worked with the AVUSD to develop AVCI, which lays claim to the Luz Observatory that features a 14-inch Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope and a 5-meter motorized dome and cameras for planetary viewing and recording. The AVCI campus includes a flight simulator and Challenger Space Shuttle memorial, along with STEM-focused programs and events.
“NASA is looking for new ways to bring Deep Space Network outreach to our community, and we think that AVCI is a perfect venue for these kinds of activities,” Lamb says.