Blast Off

PARKERSBURG – Participants in a space-themed summer reading camp learned about the International Space Station and other outer space facts from an actual NASA representative Tuesday.

Justin Smith, a Parkersburg native and 2001 Parkersburg South High School graduate, works in the Strategic Communications Office at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Independent Verification and Validation Program in Fairmont, W.Va.

He spoke to students in the “Rocket Kids: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Read” summer program at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Charles Street in Parkersburg.

Smith said he worked with NASA from 2007-2011, helping train shuttle crews for their missions. He then spent a couple of years working the U.S. Navy before returning to NASA at its Fairmont facility.

Much of his work involves education outreach, such as the talk he gave to the children Tuesday at Good Shepherd Church.

“I love this kind of program,” Smith said. “Getting the kids interested in science and engineering and math, that’s where we’re building the future.”

Linda Crocker is parish ministries coordinator at Good Shepherd and co-director of the reading camp.

She said the program started about 10 years ago in the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky and grew from there. Good Shepherd held its first camp last summer with a railroad theme and is offering this summer’s space-themed camp through Friday for children in second through fifth grades.

“Our goal is to work with them on specific skills to help boost their reading ability and also to boost their self-confidence,” Crocker said of the 16 children participating in this week’s free program, which is sponsored by the Episcopal Church.

Through the week, the students are working on various reading-specific activities in the morning, with special afternoon activities like Smith’s presentation.

Following the presentation Tuesday, a pair of volunteers helped the students shoot bottle rockets, using two-liter bottles lofted into the air by a combination of water and air pressure.

“We want to give them experiences, give them reasons why they might want to learn to read better,” Crocker said.

The final activity of each day has been a guest reader, such as Mayor Bob Newell on Tuesday. The students also will visit the Parkersburg/Wood County Public Library and the Parkersburg High School Planetarium this week, she said.