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STEM project hits the logging trails
May 31, 2018

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The May 16 fifth balloon launch for the Austintown Middle School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) class went down (or up) without a hitch. After losing site of the balloon, a chase crew consisting of Superintendent Vince Colaluca, STEM teacher Jason Freudenberg and eight students hopped into a school transport van and began tracking the balloon using a GPS signal.

"We started by heading south into Poland when the GPS started showing a different direction," Colaluca said. "So we got on I-80 and headed into Pennsylvania."

When they reached Franklin, Pa., the signal was lost, so the search party stopped for a breather. Colaluca said at a certain height, a signal will be blocked by the military.

The students picked up the signal while traveling on a mountain top in Cook's Forest. The students were able to take a screen shot which showed a logging road nearby. After following the signal, the search party found the payload and parachute about 100 feet up in a tree. The tree was right next to a logging road.

"We got lucky," Colaluca said. "It was about 4 p.m. and we had found it."

Getting it down was now the problem. Colaluca said he moved the van closer to the tree to use it is the retrieval, but the van ended up getting stuck. No one panicked though. The students split into two groups, one to deal with retrieval and the other to deal with getting the van unstuck.

As they were working on the problem, a logging truck came down the road. The loggers asked Colaluca what the Austintown group was doing this far back in the woods. After the STEM project was explained in detail, one of the loggers stated how impressed he was and how the school his children attend never did anything like that.

Colaluca said one logger assisted in getting the payload down from the tree while the other hooked up the school van and safely got it back on the road surface.

The chase crew then headed back home with the $2,200 payload. Over the past weeks, the STEM students went through the data and studied a project very few schools ever get involved in. Colaluca said he was very impressed with the students who were part of the Chase Team.

STEM teacher Danielle Chine said for a student to become art of the Chase Team, they had to first submit an essay. Nine students are then selected to accompany school officials in the chase van.

"These kids worked well as a team," Colaluca said. "This is how and why we have the STEM program in Austintown schools."

He said the STEM program at AMS will be back next year. He said there are 25 seats and 35 have applied. At the fifth grade level, a new STEM Special program will be initiated next years. He said eventually a student can take a STEM path from sixth through twelfth grade, then could go on to YSU and stay in the valley for a good education.

The whole weather balloon experiment will be aired on Austintown Community Television. Check listings on the Austintown Schools ACTV department for dates and times.

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