Kids connect with space through videoconference

THE COURIER/Photo by Erica Camhi

The One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center is training the astronauts of tomorrow, one fifth-grader at a time.

Since the NASA Videoconferencing Technology Program was implemented in 2007, Richmond Hill students have connected to space stations, learned technology and science, and most recently, participated in a videoconference with NASA rocket scientist Tom Benson.

While Benson was currently stationed on the ground in Ohio, he answered questions about the daily experiences of astronauts in space.

“I might be looking at one of the first people to walk on Mars,” Benson said to the students.

The videoconference took place on March 1 and included footage from onboard the International Space Station. Twenty-one students from Richmond Hill area schools, many of whom are aspiring astronauts, applied and were chosen by their teachers to participate in the 12-week program.

Simcha Waisman, the organization’s president, and other volunteers manage the program.

“These kids are learning how to research on the computer and do lots of different things. The goal is to get them excited to learn and to want to be something in their life,” Waisman said. “I know what they get out of it because I get letters from parents saying, ‘You changed the life of my child.’”

When asked for her thoughts on the program and on becoming an astronaut, 12-year-old Safiatu D. from P.S. 66 said, “It inspired me and taught me more about it. It makes me more and more interested.”

However, the community center is struggling to survive since its funding has almost completely been cutoff.

Waisman, a volunteer, fears this to be the last year of the program unless funding comes quickly and urges residents to write to the elected officials to keep the programs in place.

“It’s the kids who will suffer,” he said.