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Prairie Vista Middle School

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    ‘They’re just like us’: Hawthorne middle-school girls get unique SpaceX visit

    Girls working on STEM
    Female students from Prairie Vista Middle School in Hawthorne were the first to celebrate International Women In Engineering Day with SpaceX Women’s Network, a volunteer professional-development group of 300 female employees. From left, Layla Godoy, Casmiria Turton, Anny Ning SpaceX structures engineer and Bella Freire. Photo credit SpaceX

    It’s rare to get a tour of SpaceX’s rocket-making Hawthorne headquarters, let alone one-on-one chats with its engineers.

    But some Hawthorne middle-school girls who got just such an invitation recently were in awe of the work being done in their neighborhood.

    “It was pretty surreal,” 13-year-old Bella Freire said. “Usually, you see rockets in magazines but not up-close and personal. Seeing people work on them is amazing. It makes me feel really small.”

    A new volunteer group of female SpaceX employees — the 300-member SpaceX Women’s Network — welcomed Freire and two dozen other Prairie Vista Middle School students on a Saturday afternoon this month for some lessons on engineering and tips about life.

    The company offers some local high school internship opportunities and school tours, but is otherwise usually off-limits.

    The visit was organized in recognition of International Women in Engineering Day, which is Friday.

    Girls working on STEM

    Female students from Prairie Vista Middle School in Hawthorne were the first to celebrate International Women In Engineering Day with SpaceX Women’s Network, a volunteer professional-development group of 300 female employees. From left, Kiara Ventura, Anny Ning SpaceX structures engineer and Grace Rangel. Photo credit SpaceX

    “Because you have few women in this field, we’re trying to empower women to be vocal for themselves and have confidence in their technical abilities,” said Damaris Toepel, the lead integration and test engineer for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. “In all of the positions I’ve held, it was very common for me to be the only female in the room and, sometimes, I would hold myself back from speaking.”

    Toepel founded the volunteer Women’s Network a year ago. She hoped to empower females at the company, which — like many other tech and aerospace companies — is dominated by male workers.

    One of the students who attended their first community-education event, Daniela Jimenez, 14, said she has an A in science at Prairie Vista but hadn’t considered a career as an engineer.

    “I’m more interested in engineering now. Before, I wouldn’t have thought of doing it in my future life,” Jimenez said. “It was pretty interesting to go and see them build these incredible things that go up to space.”

    SpaceX moved to Hawthorne as a startup company in 2008, and now is an established global leader in commercial space exploration. Its Dragon spacecraft was the first commercial space-transport vessel to dock at the International Space Station in 2012.


    Now, the company is putting the finishing touches on a craft that can ferry astronauts to orbit and, ultimately, land on Mars.

    During their visit, the Prairie Vista students took apart and investigated everyday electronics like phones and cameras, built toy solar-powered cars, and assembled circuit boards.

    Freire said she enjoyed doing hands-on work with the engineers. Even though it sounds “kinda cheesy,” she said she was inspired by what she saw and heard.

    “I was expecting them to be nerds, but they’re just like us,” she said. “One of the SpaceX girls reminded me of myself, and she was able to go to college and do engineering, and build a race car. That was pretty cool.”

    Students got to take home their creations to tell their families about what they learned.

    Toepel said she hoped to inspire young women in the way she was inspired by former NASA aerospace engineer and astronaut Susan Helms.

    “Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to become an astronaut,” Toepel said. “When they’d send a crew up, I’d sit there watching the Earth rotate in complete awe. Susan Helms became my mentor growing up because I thought: ‘There’s nothing special about her. I can do what she’s doing.’ ”

    Grades of Green

    Congratulations to our Grades of Green team for taking second place in the Trash Free Lunch Challenge. Our team reduced on campus trash by thousands of bags per school year. This program had an impact on the way all of our students reduce, reuse and recycle during lunch! Green Team members volunteered daily, wrote a 20 page application, made a PowerPoint, and gave a tour to a team of 15 of Hawthorne's trash experts! Go Panthers!Students holding banner for Grades of Green

    Prairie Vista Middle School

    Tapping Into Students’ Inner Strengths

    Prairie Vista Middle School invests in the future, one fine arts program at a time. As other districts and states cut funding for the arts, two schools in Hawthorne, California, are making a strong statement about what puts kids on the road to college. Helen Morgan, superintendent of the K-8 Hawthorne School District, believes tapping into students’ inner strengths earlier in their education will put more students on a path to higher education.

    Prairie Vista’s new music program, funded in part with donations by the Hawthorne School District Education Foundation and the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce, is opening up musical opportunity for 6th-8th graders. Students rotate each trimester into Dr. Lorenzo Sanchez’s new Roland F-110 piano lab, learning to read and write music, rhythm, and music history.

    Customized by Roland Corporation for Prairie Vista, young players on the F-110’s 88-key Progressive Hammer Action piano experience the authentic feel of an acoustic grand. Students can explore up to 306 tones besides the piano, including eight drum sets and sound effects. As students grow and learn, they can access the F-110’s easy Transpose feature or Record and Save up to three tracks on the built-in Recorder.

    Dr. Sanchez can isolate each player, listen to small groups, or hear the whole class on the Roland GLC-1 music conferencing system. This all-in-one communication solution is perfect for group piano teaching and music ensemble instruction. Because the GLC-1 doesn’t rely on external computer hardware or software, Prairie Vista’s music classes are simple to manage and fun for students. It’s both intuitive and easy-to-use.
    Students passing their required classes enter specialized courses--in this case music--as an elective choice that gets them excited about coming to school. The “Way Cool” Keyboarding curriculum taught in the lab is written specifically for teens, designed to create a successful and motivating first experience at the piano. Written by Debra Perez and Will Baily, this method has students reading music, playing off the page, experiencing ensemble play and enjoying a variety of music styles.

    The program is supplemented with a music accompaniment CD that plays along with the students. “The kids feel as if they are part of a band or an orchestra while they are learning basic keyboard concepts,” Dr. Sanchez says. He feels this makes their learning unique and that accompaniments “keep the students interested, help them develop a strong sense of rhythm, and help make playing fun right away.”

    Giving students an opportunity to be successful in specialized courses, with technology as the center, is raising student interest and test scores. Compared to districts with similar demographics, Prairie Vista scores in the top 10 percent of similar schools statewide. Morgan points out, however, that “A test doesn’t measure your ability to build a robot or play a musical instrument....we just have to keep pushing ourselves.” And, Morgan adds, educators need to keep looking for opportunities for students to be successful. Prairie Vista is off to a great start!


    Hawthorne's Middle Schools Given Focused Educational Themes

    Daily Breeze Article
    By Rob Kuznia Staff Writer

    girl playing piano

    Sixth grader Averille Walton learns the piano at the same time as 30 other students at Prairie Vista Middle School, which is now a fine arts academy. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

    It's nothing new for a public high school to build its curriculum around a singular focus - perhaps in the arts, the sciences or vocational ed.

    But the Hawthorne School District is embarking on a pioneering version of such an approach by bringing it to all three of its middle schools.

    This means Prairie Vista School is no longer just a regular middle school. Now it has a specialized theme, namely the fine arts. Ditto for Bud Carson Middle School, the district's new hub for classes in science, technology, engineering and math (often referred to as STEM). And Hawthorne Middle School, where the thrust is business.

    Student working on STEM

    Tiffany Tran in a honors science class at Bud Carson Middle School, which is now a science and math academy. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

    Rolled out this fall, the plan is partly an effort to staunch a steady outflow of Hawthorne's K-8 students to neighboring charter schools, a common occurrence in public schools serving a low-income clientele.

    But Helen Morgan, superintendent of the K-8 Hawthorne School District, said the ultimate goal is to put more students on the path to college. She believes tapping into students' inner strengths earlier on will help accomplish that.

    Read more . . .

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    Students are to be dropped off or picked up at the gate at the end of the driveway on Prairie Ave or at the gate on 135th

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