At a school named after the Apollo lunar missions, you would expect a top-flight science program, and Apollo Middle School in Hollywood delivers the payload. It’s a STEM magnet school.
Every student takes not just the required basic science classes, but additional science courses as well, such as software engineering, civil engineering, and aeronautics.
“It’s not just shooting the rocket, it’s the math and physics behind shooting off the rocket,” explains the school’s principal, Shawn Aycock.
Students in the aeronautics program build rockets made from plastic bottles, powered by water and pressurized air, that they launch hundreds of feet into the air. They also build and design feather-weight hot air balloons made from tissue paper, and kites made from paper and drinking straws, all to study the science behind flight. Diana Dworzan designed the program’s curriculum.
“What they’re really learning is science concepts, reinforcing those concepts through hands-on experience,” Dworzan said. “They love it, I don’t understand why, I make them work so hard, yet they love it!”
Principal Aycock says it’s not hard to understand why kids love building things that fly with their own hands.
“Anything hands-on and project-based, the kids really enjoy and dig into and that's what we are offering in many of our classes," Aycock said.
For example, students learn robot design by building Lego robots to compete against each other in robot sumo wrestling. Yes, you did not mis-read that, the robots actually try to knock each other out of a ring, just like real sumo wrestlers, but without the sumo garb.
Science doesn’t crowd everything out, Apollo kids play in the school’s band, sing in the glee club, play sports and join the cheerleader squad. The school prides itself on providing options for every student.
“So when kids come here, they can take two or three electives in their schedules, they’re not just zoned for engineering or just STEM, they can really try a range of different things,” said Magnet Program Coordinator Monique Asher.
For example, Apollo has the county’s first personal finance class for middle schools. Students learn everything from how mortgages work to how to plan for retirement! The school also has a class called LEEO, which stands for Linking Education and Employment Outcomes. Students in LEEO earn Microsoft Office certification, along with a range of what the school calls, “employability skills”, such as collaboration with colleagues. The LEEO program graduates continue the program at MacArthur High School.
"It's really taken off, the kids are very proud of what they do," said Asher.
The only force that can bring the Apollo Rockets down is gravity.