AFA Grant, CAP Contributions Send Students Skyward 

May 31, 2024   |   By Vance Clark

The students at James Bowie High School in Simms, Texas, have explored the Earth, the moon, and beyond thanks to a generous grant from the Air & Space Forces Association. 

In a series of projects investigating Earth systems and comparing them to observations of the moon and Mars, students developed a deeper understanding of how the universe works. The projects began with looking at the topography of the moon and Mars and progressed to examining and planting in simulated soils from the moon and Mars. The final project was the exploration of exiting Earth systems and entering the vastness of space by launching their own rockets.  

Each team had five students for the rocket launch. Each group had a commander, launch controller, range officer, data collector, and recovery operator. The team members had the opportunity to overcome mistakes, misconceptions, and mishandling of materials to achieve the goals presented in each challenge. They developed and demonstrated the ability to keep moving forward even when their teammates fell short of their expectations. 

“It was fully expected that the students would enhance their learning through these projects,” said Dana O’Neal, the teacher at James Bowie who originally applied and was awarded AFA’s Education Grant. “However, it was not expected that these adventures would have the added benefit of teaching life skills such as leadership, problem solving, and team building.” 

After O’Neal received the grant, Vance Clarke, President of AFA Chapter 416, reached out to CAP Squadron, TX-450, to see if their unit could further support the students’ experience. Capt. Liza Smith from the CAP Squadron attended the rocket launch event and brought drones for the students to fly themselves. 

The projects were designed to create curiosity about the universe and allow the students to see that they had the skills to accomplish whatever they dreamed—even space travel. What was observed, however, was the students’ developing leadership and interpersonal skills that enhanced their understanding of how to get things done. 

Clarke, Smith, and O’Neal are looking forward to more opportunities for AFA and CAP to provide follow-on funding for 2025 programs.