Ronkonkoma – What started as a hobby for St. Joseph School’s technical director and technology teacher Jennifer Medordi, ended up taking her whole school to space as more than 300 people packed St. Joseph’s gym on May 22 to see a dozen students from the school speak directly to astronaut Jack Fischer on the International Space Station. The direct contact with the space station was the culmination to a school year that celebrated man’s exploration of space, and the fascination people have had throughout time with the exploration and conquest of space.

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An amateur (HAM) radio operator, Medordi mentioned a program called ARISS, which is an acronym for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, to Principal Richard Kuntzler and asked if she could pursue placement in the program for St. Joseph’s students. “Jennifer explained that the ARISS program was a comprehensive program with suggested readings, hands-on assignments and other related work that gave students a broad historical, scientific and cultural perspective on space exploration” Kuntzker said. “I was intrigued by the idea, but because only about a dozen schools get chosen nationally each year to participate, I wasn’t planning around the program just yet.”  That all changed when St. Joseph School was notified that they were just one of 14 schools nationally, and the only Catholic school, selected to participate during the 2016 – 2017 school year.

In her proposal, Ms. Medordi outlined the current STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program already in place at St. Joseph’s and identified some cross-curricular opportunities they could take advantage of if selected. “The initial meeting with the rest of the faculty at St. Joseph’s just blew me away,” Medordi said. “The teachers all enthusiastically embraced the concept and identified places where space exploration and radio communication could be embedded into all subjects, including Social Studies, English Language Arts, Music, Art and Religion.”

Since the beginning of the school year students at St. Joseph’s have read books on space, listened to space inspired music, and have learned about radio waves and rocket trajectories. There have even been three teacher-designed ‘Space Days’ with themes that have included ‘Space History’ where they studied the Mercury, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. They’ve learned about ‘Living in Space’ where they did activities that simulated space living and exercises for living in microgravity. And they projected what the future might hold on ‘Colonizing Mars’ day. On ‘HAM Radio Day’,  Medordi and her father, Paul Janson set up radio operations in the school allowing students to make contacts across the tri-state area to better understand HAM radio.

The May 22 contact with the International Space Station was led by 12 students from the school who became ‘Space Ambassadors’ by qualifying via an essay contest. The Ambassadors and the rest of their classmates put together a list of 20 questions that represented the things that they wanted to know, and that hopefully hadn’t been asked before. Some of the questions included:
– If you could go back in time and say something to your pre-astronaut self, what would it be?
– Do you perceive time differently in space?
– How does your view of Earth impact your perspective on humanity and how has the experience affected your faith?

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Photos by Gregory A. Shemitz

Father Mike Reader, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, noted the profound changes we’ve seen in society in the 50 years since the Christmas Eve reading from the Book of Genesis during America’s Apollo 8 mission, and contrasted that with today’s global cooperative international effort. He noted that the International Space Station is the largest non-war international collaboration in history with 16 countries collaborating, and he thanked Medordi for “lighting the flame of space exploration in the school, and for all of the rest of the teachers in the school for fanning that flame.”

The ARISS Program is a once-in-a-lifetime experience made possible by the Amateur Radio community and NASA. Space Ambassadors from St. Joseph School included:  Shane Bellino, Dominic Marando,  Alicia Soler , Manuel Kittel, Lauren Avilla,  Ralph Silvestre, Cadence DePersio, Logan Danna,  Aaron Tabigue, Rohan Douglas,  Joseph Fardella Jr.  and Alexandra Buttonow

“As a result of the ARISS Program and St. Joseph staff’s efforts the students now have a new appreciation of space science and many have expressed a desire to pursue careers in science and technology fields” stated Medordi. “That is the ultimate goal of the ARISS Program, to turn students on to the wonders of science and technology.”