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Education / Featured / Virgin Islands / World / March 21, 2015

The 15-year-old Elena Christian Junior High School (ECJH) Rocketry Club has topped high-performing U.S. science clubs and has been invited to the White House to meet President Barack Obama, and display and demonstrate the group’s latest project.

To celebrate the club’s success, a press briefing was held at the school on Friday where the principal, club members, and science teacher, Steve Bullock, spoke of the school’s rocketry program, the difficult process of being selected out of top U.S. clubs, and the excitement they feel in having the opportunity to meet the President of the United States.

“We just didn’t wake up one morning and somebody in the White House said, ‘Wow, the V.I. is a minority community, so let’s invite them,'” Bullock began. “What happened is that the Elena Christian High School has an ongoing rocketry program that has been in existence for about 15 years. And for the the last seven or eight years, we started competing in a competition that is called the Team America Rocketry Challenge that is held once a year in Virginia in the month of May.”

The club has participated six times in that challenge and has made it to the finals five times, this year being the latest. “And so that was a significant factor in determining who would go to the White House,” Bullock said.

rocketryclub elena christian

Steven Bullock, center left, talks about ECJH rocketry program

Bullock revealed that every year the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is asked by the White House to submit three nominees to visit based on the results of the challenge. Traditionally, the teams that placed first, second and third would be submitted to the White House. This year, however, the White House gathering is being held in March, before the challenge, and TARC organizers were tasked with selecting three nominees based on the results of the competition held last year, according to Bullock.

At last year’s challenge, all teams were allowed to fly their rockets for the first round, after which the top 40 teams would fly their rockets a second time. In the first round, ECJH’s Rocketry Club finished third out of 100 finalists from across the U.S., and finished twenty-first overall. Bullock said the poor weather was a factor in the second round.

In addition to the results from last year’s competition along with a new contest to be held in Nevada, with which NASA and other aerospace organizations, such as Tripoli Rocketry Association, are involved, TARC selected three finalists for this year’s White House trip.

The Nevada competition, which is to be held later this year, involves 25 colleges and universities. However, because of the unique situation presented with the early White House gathering, TARC officials, in collaboration with the Nevada event  organizers, opened the contest to the top 25 teams that placed in its 2014 rocketry challenge. The 25 teams were required to submit a scientific proposal they would present in Nevada. Five of those teams would be chosen as finalists for the White House trip.


Rocketry Club advisor, Steve Bullock, displays rocket that will be taken to a rocketry competition in Nevada

The proposal, Bullock explained, is a kit the teams would build that programs the rocket to fly in a certain direction. It also included a microprocessor the students were required to build and program in order to fly the rocket. Bullock had on display the rocket the ECJH club will take to Nevada, the final product of which will feature two boosters on either side containing pressurized water vapor that enables the rocket to fly for one mile before deploying the pressurized gas. Bullock called the construction “extremely advanced.”

The ECJH club was one of the five teams chosen as a finalist based on their proposals for the upcoming Nevada competition. And last December, TARC announced the school had been one of three clubs selected to be submitted to the White House. Bullock said the position that ECJH placed wasn’t revealed; however, he believes that “based on the  proposal, I have no doubt that we were number one.”

Out of the three groups submitted to the White House, the president’s Commission on Science selected ECJH’s Rocketry Club to represent the field of rocketry in the nation’s capital.

The team will arrive in Washington, D.C. at about 10:30 p.m. on March 21.


Students, teachers and principal look on as ECJH Rocketry Club banner is unveiled

“Going up to the White House and meeting the president is such a prestigious event and I’m so excited, so happy and elated to just go and showcase what we have done — years of work that we have done, and how we finally get to show the United States what such a minority can do,” said Stephanie Bullock, club captain. Bullock said she plans to embark on a career in the field of aerospace science.

Maria Heywood, who has been a club member since last September, said she is “very excited.”

“I’m very impressed because most students would never be able to go to the White House, so it’s a very good experience for me,” she said.

Heywood said she was still working on a speech to “impress” the president as of yesterday, but she will thank him for inviting the St. Croix group to the White House. She said her parents were happy for her and relieved the group was chosen. She jokingly added, “My  mom is actually jealous.” Heywood revealed that she wishes to embark on a career as an EMT, which she says requires patience, a trait she is learning in rocketry, since “you’re going to need patience to build the rockets,” she added.

Carlos McGregor, ECJH’s principal, called the trip “a once in a lifetime opportunity” and said he’s “ecstatic” for the students. He also acknowledged the hard work the rocketry club have done to get them where they are today.

“They’ve done the heavy lifting,” he said. They’ve done the early-morning car washes, they’ve done the late Saturday nights building rockets and we’re so happy that they’re being recognized in this manner.”

Speaking on the need for more schools and students to be exposed to the opportunity that ECJH has, Sherma Ferdinand, a teacher at the school, said more needs to be invested in local schools and students.

“In  the Virgin Islands, our students are sometimes not exposed to these opportunities to actually meet the president of the United States to showcase their talent [and] skills that we don’t get to see,” she said. “It sheds light on the fact that a bigger investment needs to be made in education [for] our children, especially in the Virgin Islands, because I would love to see these opportunities become available in the other schools — high schools and elementary schools.”

Ferdinand added that she is”very excited for the students.”

At the close of the event, McGregor led the rocketry students to the front of the school to present something special: an ECJH Rocketry Club banner displaying rockets and the faces of the club members. They all could be seen beaming with pride.

Members of the ECJH Rocketry Club are Amari DeSouza, Maria Heywood, Stephanie Bullock, Gabriel St. Kitts and Shimeeka Stanley. Steve Bullock, club advisor, will also travel with the group to Washington, D.C., along with advisors Sherma Ferdinand and Camille Gouveia, who are teachers at the school.

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Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected].

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