4-Time Space Traveler Will Speak to SPMS Students
Don Thomas has been on four space shuttle missions and will speak to Severna Park Middle students on March 21.
Sixth-grade students at Severna Park Middle School will have an opportunity to share in an out-of-this-world experience on March 21. The school will host astronaut Don Thomas who has been on four space shuttle missions.
Thomas will talk to students about the challenges he overcame on his way to becoming an astronaut—he was turned down three times—and will share photos taken during his three missions.
The entire presentation was made possible thanks to sixth-grade science teacher Debbie Sparby, who was chosen to take part in an internship offered by Towson University.
“Towson University has a grant with NASA, and they offer this internship program called BEST,” Sparby said. “You have to go through a crazy application process, and only a few teachers from all over the state are given these outrageous opportunities.”
It was through the internship with Towson that Sparby met Thomas and invited him to speak at Severna Park Middle.
“His story is pretty incredible,” Sparby said. “He talks about how as a kid he always knew he wanted to be an astronaut. He kept going back to school and getting into different things and was actually turned down three times to be an astronaut. But he knew what he wanted, and he was relentless. He did not give up.”
Sparby said the BEST program provides teachers with the opportunity to get back in touch with their science roots. She said it is sometimes too easy to get caught up in teaching and forget about how scientists learned the material that is taught in a textbook.
Through the classes and opportunities Sparby has participated in at Towson, she has rediscovered new teaching techniques and found ways to give back to her students even more.
“It’s so funny, because I have been a teacher for a long time and you feel like you are pretty good at what you do,” Sparby said. “But what is really funny is when you get involved in something like this and all of a sudden you are thinking, ‘Wow, I thought I was good, but I didn’t realize how much better I could be.’”
Thanks to the BEST program, Sparby took some of her students on a field trip to Columbus Center in Baltimore, where she spent the summer working. There, her students were able to work with her professors and get hands-on experience learning about water quality, earth surfaces and microorganisms in the Inner Harbor.
“That’s something my kids would never have had the opportunity to do,” she said. “I didn’t have those resources. And I wouldn’t have had the confidence or knowledge to teach them all that. This has definitely been good for the kids.”
Students will get to experience another benefit of Sparby’s internship on March 21, when Thomas comes to speak with them about his space missions and his relentless attitude. The presentation is something Sparby said is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“How many people get to meet an astronaut?” Sparby said. “These kids are really lucky, and it is going to be really cool.”
CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that the astronaut was in space four times. Patch regrets the error.