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Mentors, mentees launch rockets

Last Thursday, mentors and mentees found out how far their bottle rockets can fly. Some flew straight up into the sky, then came back down and landed with a thud. Others wobbled a bit and performed some aerodynamic tricks. But most streamlined th...

Last Thursday, mentors and mentees found out how far their bottle rockets can fly.
Some flew straight up into the sky, then came back down and landed with a thud. Others wobbled a bit and performed some aerodynamic tricks. But most streamlined through the air and cleared 80 feet or more.
Each launch was followed with cheers and clapping. This was the first official blast off for the Mentor Duluth and Marshall School bottle rocket project.
The five-week project is part of a pilot program offered through the Mentor Duluth Academic Enrichment Program. An Ordean Foundation grant gave Mentor Duluth and Marshall School an opportunity to team up and share the school's resources in arts, humanities and sciences with community youths.
The next program and topic will be offered this summer, with two more scheduled in the fall.
"We're trying to develop a broader and deeper range of resources in academic enrichment," said David Clanaugh, Mentor Duluth's grants and evaluations coordinator.
In return, the project allows Marshall School to broaden its connection with the community.
"They want to make sure they're working with an array of kids and not just students of Marshall School," said Lisa Grathen, coordinator of the Mentor Duluth and Marshall School project.
Two Marshall School instructors wrote the curriculum for the project and have been meeting with 26 pairs of mentors and mentees to build the rockets. Thursday was the fourth meeting.
"It's been great. The kids are on fire for science," said Heather Anderson, a ninth-grade physical science teacher at Marshall. "They're learning and don't even know it."
Clanaugh said the project has a "hands-on" quality with hooks into academic areas.
The youths have learned that a combination of air pressure and water launches the rockets, which are made of 2-liter pop bottles, cardboard and lots of duct tape.
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Tom Diener, an earth science and physical education teacher for eighth- and ninth-graders, said safety was Thursday's emphasis.
Prior to "blast off," the mentors and mentees had to subtract the rocket's center of pressure from the center of gravity. If they calculated a positive number, they could head down to the football field for launching.
"It was his idea. He had all the drawings. He does the designs, and I try to help," said Jim Tolan about his mentee, Jeremiah Bennet. They have been together in the Mentor Duluth program for 1 1/2 years. "He had a picture before we started, so he's pretty enthused about this."
Shannon Meyers and her mentee, Erika Allen, were a little skeptical about the project at first.
"We've learned a lot," Meyers said. "From the beginning it was shaky, but we're excited to launch it."
Three rockets at a time were placed on a 60 psi launcher located at the football field's goal post. Each mentee was in charge of pulling a launcher string as everyone else stood back and counted down from five.
When the last one was launched, each rocket was measured for distance.
Now that the mentees have tested their designs, they have a chance to modify their rockets and perhaps change a few variables for the second and final launch.
The project is somewhat competitive. Everyone wants their rocket to go the furthest. But overall, the youths are having fun while learning some important laws of physics.
"So many children, they struggle in school," Clanaugh said. "They have experiences that don't seem to be positive for them. Mentor Duluth wants to provide the opposite of that."
The program benefits mentors, too, by offering them a chance to network, and it alleviates some of the pressure of finding projects and ways to entertain their mentees.
"This Marshall project has really been thought provoking, because it's serving as an example of community building among mentors and identifying resources among them," Clanaugh said. "It's been a real boost to the (academic enrichment) program."
Sandi Dahl is a news reporter for the Budgeteer News. To reach her, call 723-1207 or send e-mail to sandi.dahl@duluth.com .
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