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Tefft teacher shares experience at Space Academy

Tefft Middle School Teacher Debbie John-Jeffrey experiences anti-gravity chair Honeywell Educators Space Academy last June U.S. Space Rocket Center Huntsville

Tefft Middle School Teacher Debbie John-Jeffrey experiences the anti-gravity chair at Honeywell Educators at Space Academy last June at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. | Submitted

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Updated: October 4, 2013 6:09AM

STREAMWOOD — Debbie John-Jeffrey of Elgin always has been fascinated by space — “just the fact that there’s something out there, that we are just a little tiny speck in the whole thing.”

“When you look at the universe, we’re like nothing there,” John-Jeffrey said.

The eighth-graders in her science class at Tefft Middle School are interested, too, she said, even if they mostly just want to talk about aliens.

This school year, the teacher has new lessons and stories to share with those students after spending a week this summer at a space camp designed for educators.

John-Jeffrey was one of 210 middle school teachers from 27 countries and 42 states awarded a scholarship from Honeywell Hometown Solutions to the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program this summer at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Space Academy is a five-day professional development program focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

It was created in partnership with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in 2004 to give teachers new skills and techniques to motivate students to pursue growing STEM fields.

Over the next 18 months, 15 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations will require significant mathematics or science preparation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

HE@SA includes 45 hours of professional development, as well as an intensive educator curriculum focused on space science and exploration. It also involves simulated astronaut training, including a high-performance jet simulation, scenario-based space mission, land and water survival training and interactive flight dynamics programs.

“It was out of this world, literally,” John-Jeffrey said.

One of the highlights for the teacher were the space missions she and her teammates completed, based on transcripts of real-life missions. She got to be the pilot on a shuttle mission and a scientist on a lunar landing.

She also got to meet several astronauts, who were “regular” people — they just had studied hard, she said.

“What I learned is that really being an astronaut is available for a lot of people to do,” she said. “They just have that interest, and we as teachers just need to push the kids to have that high-level thinking in math and science.”

The teacher said she definitely plans to encourage her students’ interest in space this year, and she’s excited to share some of the experiments she performed at the space center with them when they get to that unit of study.

To attend HE@SA, candidates must complete a thorough application process. Once chosen, teachers are awarded scholarships, round-trip airfare, tuition, meals and accommodations sponsored by Honeywell and its employees.

Four teachers from Tefft and one from another middle school in Elgin School District U46 had applied to the program, John-Jeffrey said.

“Inspiring students begins with inspiring teachers,” Honeywell Hometown Solutions President Tom Buckmaster said. “HE@SA gives teachers an engaging and unforgettable learning experience that heightens their ability to become even more effective educators.”

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