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Carib school wins award for best space experiment

6/26/2014, 10:11 a.m.

ST. AUGUSTINE, TRINIDAD — You wouldn’t normally expect to hear a conversation about “ionization in the earth’s atmosphere” happening among a group of 12- to 14-year-old youngsters. However, that conversation is exactly what led enterprising youth from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago to the top prize in the Cubes in Space global contest.

Seven students from Trinidad and Tobago’s NorthGate College captured the 2014 Cubes in Space MPAC Group Top Design Award for a science experiment that will be launched into space on June 26.

One member of the team, 13-year-old Deron Khelawan, confidently explained, “The ionization investigation seeks to measure the extent to which an electromagnetic field is generated as the payload moves through the ionosphere.”

Their creative idea not only impressed their teachers and parents, it impressed a global panel of judges that included some of the finest minds in the aerospace industry.

“The quality of thought and depth of understanding of the science behind their experiment far exceeded most of what was submitted to us by other schools and countries. The NASA engineers to whom we have shown the proposal and video were utterly impressed and astounded that the application was submitted by middle school aged students,” said Amber Agee-DeHart, founder of the Cubes in Space program.

The program is a partnership between Rubik Learning Initiative, idoodlesoftware and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium’s RockSat-C program and is supported by the Sounding Rocket Program Office at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Yolande La Pierre, director at the St. Augustine-based secondary school, was elated when she received news of the award. “This achievement is a real testament to the potential that lives within our children. It means a lot for us and for our education system to see their creativity, determination and teamwork rewarded in this way.”

In a male-dominated science world, La Pierre was quick to point that there were six girls in the winning NorthGate team. One of them, 12-year-old Chaela Wooding, said, “Our project was a lot of fun, but we had to quickly learn about space and how it relates to our ordinary classes. It was a lot of hard work for us, but we were able to get it all done in time. Now we’re all waiting to see what will happen when our cube actually goes into space.”

“The goals of the program are to show students the interconnections between science, technology, engineering, math, arts and communications concepts and to teach students to become analytical and effective thinkers. Throughout the experience, students acquired key 21st century skills necessary for success in a highly connected, global society,” said Agee-DeHart.

“The award validated our school’s holistic, values-based approach to education,” said Dr. Noel Woodroffe, chairman and founder of NorthGate College. “We have always nurtured our students to think beyond the curriculum. The Cubes in Space program presented a wonderful opportunity for us to witness this in action as the teamwork, creativity and excellence we strive to instill were on full display. This is indeed a proud moment for our Northgate College family across the world.”

NorthGate is an education initiative of Congress WBN, a global nonprofit led by Woodroffe with operations in over 85 countries. The school, which started in Trinidad in 1999, now has centers in Jamaica, Kenya and Zambia and soon will shape more young minds for the 21st century with new centers in Nigeria and New Zealand.