Students study math, science and space from beneath the waves

About 20 Rite-of-Passage students hit the water at Carson Aquatic Center this week in full scuba gear as part of - no kidding - their math and science class.

Science teacher Mike Reynolds said the project is actually patterned after the neutral buoyancy training NASA gives to its astronauts, training them underwater to simulate a zero-gravity environment.

In the deep end of the pool, teams of students worked to build a PVC pipe scale model of the International Space Station.

"Sometimes it's pretty hard to motivate these kids in math and science," said Reynolds. "This motivates them because they knew if they didn't pass the academic tests, they don't get to participate."

But first, he said, they had to get some training in how to scuba dive.

That, he said, is where Keith Chesnut, owner of Sierra Dive Center in Reno, and a half dozen of his certified instructors came in. Chesnut volunteered the equipment. The instructors - Scott Hagen, Chris Phipps, Ed McCann, Joe Tartaglia, Ed Lind and Shaune Ferguson - volunteered their time, spending all this week in the pool teaching the students the basics so they could do the project safely.

Chesnut said there wasn't enough time to actually certify them as divers but teaching them was no problem since all are young, healthy and athletic. And, he said, they are obviously enthused about diving.

"I've had a couple of them ask me if they can get a job doing this," he said.

Pointing to the staff and his instructors around the submerged team, he said the exercise is perfectly safe because, "we've got them outnumbered."

And, with the carrot of learning something about scuba diving, all studied hard and passed their math and science test, Reynolds said.

To join the pool portion of the project, students had to learn the math, science and physics associated with scuba and how it relates to astronaut training. Chesnut said they had to learn how to safely maneuver under water and how to maintain neutral buoyancy to actually complete the project.

Reynolds said the exercise also teaches them how to work together as a team to build the PVC structure 11 feet under water.

ROP is an program for young men who have gotten into trouble with the juvenile justice system one way or another. In addition to academic studies to get them high school diplomas or a GED, it focuses on developing social skills and repairing behavioral problems through athletics.

John Fitzgerald, of the Eldorado County Office of Education, which oversees ROP's activities, said the 20 plus students in the project are at what ROP calls "Qualifying House" - the residential house for those nearly ready to go back to a regular high school.

The idea of competition carried over even to the underwater space station project with staff timing the student teams to see who could put the project together fastest. The average time for the teams - about 21 minutes.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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