Philadelphia Elementary class heads to outer space

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Teaching fifth graders during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Philadelphia Elementary School teacher Sonya Smith looks at a day at school.

“We remember last year,” Smith said. “We went home in March and didn’t come back.

“This year, we don’t take a day for granted. Every day, we work from bell to bell because we don’t know what the future holds. It could change tomorrow.”

Smith, a veteran of 22 years in education, has been at Philadelphia High School for four years. She teaches science and social studies.

“My students want to be at school,” Smith said. “We are doing everything we can to stay safe. Some are here, some are attending through zoom classes. We just do that simultaneously. Our students have adapted so well, virtual or traditional. They came to school and jumped into it.”

Smith is always looking for way to keep her students interested in their science lessons. Earlier this year, her classes were studying the earth and outer space. So, in a way, her students went out of their classrooms and into out of space for a lesson.

Through a program with Virtual Cultural Celebration in Arizona, six of her students were able to talk with the astronauts on the International Space Station.

“A colleague of mine saw it on the Internet and thought it was something I might be interested on,” Smith said. “I let the students go home and prepare a question they would like to ask. Then we worked on their speaking skills and their presentation.

“They were able to pick out the background of the materials I had in the classroom. And so, we presented videos along with students in other state. They picked 20 students from across the United States to ask their questions and they picked six of ours.”

Those students were Abby Creel, Talia Cole, Cherish McCallum, Mattie Gill, Jaiden Houston and Carlisle Ray.

The students talked to Commander John Herrington. Their questions included: “What did you do to prepare for your space flight?” and, “Would you please explain the Artemis mission (which is the next moon mission).”

“Earth and space are one of our power standards in fifth grade in our curriculum,” Smith said. “We have studied about it and were really excited to have this opportunity.”

That was just one experience for her students. Other activities before Christmas included learning about chemical reactions where they combine different substances. They took the red solo cup challenge by using red solo cups build structures.

            Smith is from Louisville. She got her bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University. She then earned her Master’s degree from State in education with a concentration in Math and Science. She went on to Mississippi University for Women to earn her “Highly Qualified” certification.

Smith taught for 10 years in the Louisville School District. Then she was at Mississippi State for eight years working in a math and science grant program at the Center for Technology Research.

“It enabled me to see a lot of different classrooms and their science content.,” Smith said. “It gave me a chance to observe other teachers and how they present the material. I think all teachers can benefit from is how others do things.”

Her last four years have been at Philadelphia Elementary School which she said she has enjoyed.

Last month, Smith was infected by COVID-19 but is back in the classroom.

“I was very sick for several days,” Smith said, “But I did what they told me to do. I drank a lot of fluids and rested. I am better.”


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