U.Va. Summer Enrichment Program Students to Launch Weather Balloon July 29

July 23, 2008 — Middle school and high school students participating in the Summer Enrichment Program at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education are scheduled to launch a weather balloon on Tuesday, July 29 at St. Anne’s Belfield School on Ivy Road at 9:30 a.m. 

The weather project arose from interest the students expressed during the SEP application process. When prompted to write about a community concern, more than half of the residential summer camp's 2008 admission essays, submitted by students vying for a spot in the program, focused on global warming, a phenomenon that did not go unnoticed by SEP director Julie Baird.

SEP students in one class are now working with Luke Sitka, a graduate student in U.Va.'s environmental sciences department. In the course, "Ask a Meteorologist Weather or Not," students explore the underlying theories used in meteorology that illustrate the atmosphere as an integrated system. They learn to use instruments, employ data collection methods and make the analytical connections within the field. As part of the class, students will launch a weather balloon to measure and observe the current state of the atmosphere.

Sitka said he hopes that real-life experiences like this one will not only excite young students about atmospheric sciences, but also make them aware of how it can affect their daily lives. "Our goal is for them to not blindly believe what they read, but question and understand current scientific issues," he said.

The goal of the Summer Enrichment Program is to use classes representing diverse disciplines and fields as portals to developing individual student strengths and talents, interests and ways of thinking, Baird said.

"SEP benefits greatly from opportunities to collaborate with other departments across the University," she said. "Not only will the students in this class have a chance to learn from an expert in the weather field, but they will be able to work with specialized equipment generously loaned by the environmental sciences department."

This residential summer program for gifted and talented students has a 29-year history at the University of Virginia. Students who are currently in grades 4-10 may apply. This year, 936 students are participating in the program, which is broken out into three two-week sections with 312 students in each.