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‘The Call’ will let Children’s Hospital patients talk to astronauts on space station

Mar. 11, 2020, 1:58 PM

Children’s Hospital patient Micah Santiago, 9, participates in a space-themed craft lesson to make a shooting star. The arts and crafts unit is part of the Children’s Hospital school program’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math lesson plan to prepare for an upcoming ham radio call with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. (photo by Cayce Long)

by Christina Echegaray

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is about to be out of this world.

The Children’s Hospital school program has been chosen as one of only nine schools across the country to talk with astronauts aboard the International Space Station as it passes over Tennessee. The program was the only non-traditional school that Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) picked to participate in this round of calls to astronauts.

Students, who are also patients of Children’s Hospital, are expected to speak to the astronauts sometime between March 27 and April 2, depending on the positioning of the Space Station in alignment with Nashville. An exact date and time will be announced about a week out from contact, also known as “The Call.”

“We are honored and excited to be picked among a select group of schools to participate in this program,” said Tisha Coggin, Children’s Hospital schoolteacher. “A huge team effort went into making this possible, starting with the collaboration with our Seacrest Studio colleagues and all along the implementation of our lesson plans and activities. We’re so thankful that Brian Clark with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation brought this opportunity to our attention. It’s been so fulfilling to see patients excited to learn about space and amateur radio.”

The ARISS program is designed to engage young people in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) activities and raise their awareness of space communications, radio communications, space exploration and related areas of study and career possibilities.

During the call, students will have 10 minutes to ask an astronaut questions, prompted by what they’ve learned through various educational activities. After that time, the signal, transmitted through an antenna atop the Children’s Hospital building, will drop due to the positioning of the international space station. The antenna and supplies were donated by the Williamson County Amateur Radio Club.

To earn this rare opportunity for “The Call”, the hospital school program, along with Seacrest Studio and local Amateur Radio Operators, drafted a lengthy proposal that included a detailed education plan.

On average, the hospital school program serves approximately 20 students weekly, ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade. The hospital teachers strive to bridge the gap when children miss school due to illness or injury, working with a patient’s local school to provide assignments and support for academic needs. The teachers also create opportunities for group sessions inside the hospital that allow patients the socialization they would experience in a traditional school setting.

The opportunity to host the ARISS call has allowed the teachers to enhance the current academic programming already in place at Children’s Hospital by adding a theme of study focused on space exploration and amateur radio technology.

Together the hospital school program and Seacrest Studios, along with community partners, have produced weekly and monthly educational activities for the patients. The physical therapy and occupation therapy teams created lessons about how microgravity can affect the body while in space and the importance of exercise. Also, music therapists discussed the importance of the astronauts taking care of their mental health while they are isolated in space, working with patients to create a song that expressed feelings about being hospitalized.

In other events, the Williamson County and Vanderbilt University Amateur Radio clubs taught the patients about amateur radio, Morse code and assisted them with building FM radio receivers. Students also learned the scale of the planets in relationship to their size and distance from the sun, how sound waves travel, how momentum and thrust work to launch into space, and the importance of protective suits for the astronauts.

“Our students have learned the importance of exercise/activity and why it is just as important for them as it is for astronauts. They’ve also been able to empathize with astronauts who are isolated from friends and family, since many of them experience the same thing while admitted and/or restricted from attending school,” said schoolteacher Lesley Thompson.

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