Look out below! PS 94 scientists at work

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The final days of the elementary school year typically are filled with fidgety students, tired teachers and dreams of summer freedom.

At Little Neck’s PS 94, the end of the school year comes with its own special brand of pomp and circumstance — and a pair of high commanders to lead the way.

Last week PS 94’s fifth-graders put on a show for their fellow students, school teachers and staff and even some neighborhood residents with the culmination of their Senior Challenge, a science project orchestrated by teacher Andrea Franke.

For this year’s Senior Challenge, the school’s fourth, the fifth-graders were given a mission, Using a three-dimensional cardboard triangle and only recycled materials, students had to create a parachute and landing device for a transplanted human heart.

Who needed the landing devices? NASA, of course, for a project in which the hearts would be sent to Mars in the year 2050. A seven-ounce bag filled with water and ketchup was used to replicate the transplanted heart.

To test the landing devices, school custodian Kevin Shea and paraprofessional Lorraine Dupignac, also known as the High Commanders, take the projects from the students and drop them from a second-story roof.

“It’s a great honor and it was a lot of hard work to get to this position,” joked High Commander Shea as he saluted the students.

In the minutes before the Senior Challenge officially began, with the entire PS 94 student body filling the school’s courtyard, Franke described the work that went into this year’s project.

“They’ve been working on this project for more than six weeks,” Franke said of the students. “They have to come up with the perfect shape of a parachute and the whole thing together cannot weigh more than three pounds.”

Previous Senior Challenges have included the brain (a water balloon filled with grape jelly) and the liver (a one-pound bag of chocolate pudding), Franke said.

“The first year we did eggs,” she said. “They were too mundane.”

Each Senior Challenge is a schoolwide event.

With Shea and Dupignac donning their special High Commander sashes and saluting the junior scientists, Senior Challenge 2002 began last Thursday.

Franke described this year’s project to the hundreds of PS 94 students gathered in the playground and, as the theme to “Star Wars” played in the background, the fifth-graders marched out to the applause of their fellow students.

High Commanders Shea and Dupignac carefully weighed each landing device, many of which were packed with cotton ball cushioning and secured with duct tape, to see if the creations met the three-pound weight limit. All of the roughly 15 projects did so.

Then the student body eagerly waited while Shea, Dupignac and their assistants — school social worker Neil Goldstein and student teacher Theresa Armstrong — set up shop on the school roof.

The four tossed each project off the roof one at a time, giving students a chance to check the status of their landing device once it hit the ground.

The audience shrieked, giggled and gasped as each parachuted triangle floated to the ground. Only two projects went splat, their contents exploding on the playground asphalt.

But High Commander Shea seemed to like it best when the projects burst.

“Did it break?” he’d ask excitedly after each one landed. When their were cheers of success from students, Shea would grumble.

“We gotta tell Mrs. Franke next year, no cotton,” he mused. “There are rocks on the moon. Let’s use rocks.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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