‘BAMS in Space’

Bellefonte students make direct contact with space station

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS The auditorium at Bellefonte Area Middle School was packed with students eager to make direct contact with an astronaut as he flew overhead at the school.



BELLEFONTE –The opportunities that lie ahead for students after graduation are robust, but having once-in-a-lifetime experiences while still in school is something Bellefonte Area School District really strives for.

One of those experiences took place on Feb. 26 in the Bellefonte Area Middle School, also known as BAMS. Students had the opportunity to make real-time contact with astronaut Scott Tingle of the International Space Station as he flew overhead the school. This was part of a new initiative aptly called “BAMS in Space.”

“This event may have brought to light many things that the students might not have been interested in until now,” said Bellefonte Area Middle School Principal Sommer Garman. “I hope they feel special to have been a part of an opportunity that so few get to do. It was amazing to see the support from all of the students and staff and how willing everyone was to jump in and bring this event together.”

During the event, which was livestreamed, students asked a panel of local experts from Penn State and AccuWeather various space-related questions before the much awaited direct contact took place. Several pre-chosen students then got to ask Tingle space- and NASA-related questions for approximately nine minutes.

For many years, there has been a program called Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) that allows students across the world to make make contact with members of the International Space Station. The purpose is to inspire students to explore interests in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, while also having them engage with amateur radio technology.

One year ago, district school board member and amateur ham radio operator Jon Guizar discussed the idea of Bellefonte participation in ARISS with the school board. After enthusiastic approval from the board, Guizar and another local fellow ham radio operator, Ellwood “Woody” Brem, put the idea in action in time for the program’s 2018 call for proposals.

After having known about the ARISS for many years, Brem, who is a retired radio frequency engineer, had originally brought the idea to Guizar. Ten years ago, he had tried to generate interest in the program at another school district, but interest was very low.

“Together, Jon and I worked on the technical proposal while the school board and school teachers worked on the educational proposal,” explained Brem. “In the end, our proposal was accepted as one of only 13 proposals in the United States to participate in the ARISS program [during the first half of 2018]. The rest is history.”

Bellefonte was also the only proposal accepted in the state of Pennsylvania, Guizar said. Other school districts whose proposals were accepted were located in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

“The ARISS program is important for the guidance of our younger students,” Brem said. “We have planted seeds of wonder and curiosity in these children. Who knows what wonderful lifelong careers will grow from the seeds we have planted this week.”

While Guizar does not foresee “BAMS in Space” being a reoccuring event since only a select number of schools get to make contact each year, he does anticipate that the school will continue to integrate space-related education.

During the current school year, middle school students learned about orbital mechanics and the radio frequency spectrum in their science classes. Other space-related topics were discussed throughout the science and math curriculum, Guizar said.

But the end goal for introducing this to the school goes further.

“In the end, our hope is that the Nittany Amateur Radio Club can help the school establish a radio station in the school,” he said.

The interest in a radio station is primarily at the middle school, Guizar said, but he would welcome any school building interested.

Guizar and Brem said that exposure to science and technology opportunities like this early on can make a big difference.

When he was in the 7th grade, Brem was introduced to amateur radio, an introduction that would grow into a lifelong hobby. “There was no ARISS program then, but the wonder of this marvelous technology, where you could talk all around the world from a small radio in your basement, was mesmerizing to say the least,” he said. “At a time when I might be starting to hang around with the wrong crowd, amateur radio came along and took me off the street.”

Guizar said, “There are always those students who will do well no matter what and best of luck to those students, and if you can give them a little boost to help them achieve those goals quicker, that’s great. Then you got the students who get by because that’s what they have to do, and if we can keep them motivated a little bit to keep them involved, that’s great, too. But then there are those students who really just sort of have given up and maybe they’re looking at alternate school locations, placements or homeschooling, or for whatever reason, they’re just not having that connection they need in the classroom.”

He added, “When you can provide an event like this that gives them something tangible, something real world, something exciting that they can get behind and be motivated about, now that’s really something because now you’ve saved Kyle from dropping out of school, or you’ve really made a difference in someone’s life.”