Vassalboro Community School students in line for joint project with NASA

Vassalboro Community School. (source:

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members applauded when they heard at their Sept. 17 meeting that students at Vassalboro Community School (VCS) are in line for a joint project with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly called NASA.

“Wicked awesome,” was Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer’s reaction.

Michelle Lake, instructional specialist for the now-dissolved Alternative Educational Structure (AOS) #92, and VCS science teacher Breanne Desmond reported that their application has been approved to try out for a Cubesat launch. A Cubesat is “a little tiny satellite” that carries experiments into earth orbit, Lake explained.

The next step is for NASA to help assemble a team of engineers and other experts who will work with students to build the solar-powered satellite. It will be tested by going up with a weather balloon and if it works, will hitch a ride into space.

Related: Superintendent shares acronym meanings

The timetable is indefinite, starting this fall. The project is supposed to take two years. Desmond expects to start with sixth-graders; the curriculum team hasn’t decided whether the second year will continue with the same students in seventh grade or hand over to the new sixth-graders.

The question the students will try to answer is whether the frequency or location of lightning strikes is changed by global warming. Sub-questions include whether the northeastern United States can expect more frequent or severe lightning strikes; if that answer is yes, what negative (like more forest fires) and positive (like more nitrogen fixing to improve soils) consequences might occur; whether energy could be captured from the lightning; and whether, if lightning is more frequent, housing codes should be adapted.

The other good-news report Sept. 17 was that changes to the school meals program are leading more students to eat school-provided breakfast or lunch or both. In addition to potential improvements in nutrition, more use of the meals program means an increased federal subsidy.

A third issue discussed was whether to allow a Vassalboro school bus to transport eight VCS students attending Happy Days Childcare and Learning Center on Augusta Road (Route 201), in Winslow, an estimated 70 yards from the Vassalboro town line. The usual policy is that Vassalboro buses operate only inside the town.

However, Pfeiffer said he gave Happy Days conditional approval, if the childcare manager will let its yard be used as a school bus turn-around. Driver Clayton Rice called the plan “doable,” Pfeiffer said. School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur said Happy Days employees’ vehicles are not in the way.

Board members approved the proposal without opposition, as long as the turnaround is plowed adequately and not blocked in any other way. Pfeiffer emphasized this action does not set a precedent for automatically allowing buses to cross the town boundary; anyone else wanting the same service needs to follow procedure, starting with a written application.

The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 15.


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