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North Elementary summer reading ends with a blast into space with Linda Godwin

The gym at North Elementary was transformed into a space camp, complete with science experiments, a moonwalk obstacle course and the ability to talk to a real astronaut, to celebrate reading over the summer.

Ninety-four students participated in this years’ summer reading program, Blast Into Summer Reading, which encouraged students to read over the summer to earn prizes when they came back to school.

Students who read nine hours over the summer received a NASA bracelet, a rocket pop snack and extra recess. Those who read 12 hours earned t-shirt and their picture on a bulletin board at the school. Students who read the full 15 hours were able to attend the space camp on Aug. 31.

Sarah Rottler, a first grade teacher at North, helped organize the event and said the summer reading program was started four years ago to help “prevent the summer slide.”

The space camp started with a Google Hangout with local astronaut Dr. Linda Godwin. Godwin talked about her trips to outer space and the international space station. Students attending asked her questions including if she was ever scared as an astronaut and how high she could jump in space.

Godwin talked about persevering after being rejected from the astronaut program twice, as well as her time growing up and going to school in Jackson, according to North Elementary Principal Lance McClard.

“She touched on what it takes to be successful in school and how to set yourself up with possibilities,” McClard said. “When she first started, she didn’t have the dream of being an astronaut. It was something that developed later, but she had that opportunity because she did well in school and enjoyed learning.”

After the Google Hangout, the students were able to play games and do activities that mirrored the training real astronauts go through.

“We wanted it to be a fun experience and we wanted to tie in as much learning as possible in the event,” Rottler said.
The gym was split up into different stations that were run by parent volunteers and retired teachers. The stations included wearing a space suit and going through an obstacle course to mount the American flag on the “moon,” a robotic arm claw game, making constellations using mini marshmallows, making their own “moon rocks” and a bounce house.

The program has evolved greatly over the past four years, having started only for kindergarten through second graders and last year having the celebration at the Bonne Terre Family Fun Center.

One new aspect of the program this summer was that students could take home books that matched their independent reading level. This was an effort to make sure every child who wanted to take part in the reading program could do so.

“Being in a rural area, kids don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to a library,” McClard said. “So this year Sarah [Rottler] and our reading teacher Jennie Webb came up with a system to let kids pick books and take  them over the summer, which is very helpful because those may be the only books that some of the kids have.”

Students who returned all of their summer reading books back to North were able to watch the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 with free solar glasses.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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