Lincoln High School juniors Jacob and Joshua Coffin got to have an out-of-this-world experience when they attended the week-long Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., in September.
This year’s camp roster almost reached 200 students from around the world. The group represented students from 25 states and eight countries. About 15 students from Harrison County have attended throughout the camp’s existence.
Students learn about math, engineering, science and technology in the context of aviation, the space program and robotics. The camp is comprised of two components – Space Camp and Aviation Challenge, which is military structured.
Two of the twins’ teachers weighed in on the camp and its benefits to the students.
Trina Britcher, Harrison County teacher for the visually impaired who has attended the camp since 1997 as teacher/chaperone for West Virginia students, accompanied the twins this year.
“When the students enter camp, many of them have never been around other visually impaired students,” she reports. “Others have been sheltered and believe they aren’t capable of participating in activities that their peers do. With the help of braille materials, tactile overlays, enlarged scripts and materials, and many vision teachers from around the world, our students participate fully in the space camp experience. They complete missions and simulators and activities that many of them would never have the opportunity to do. It teaches them so many things they can’t learn in the classroom.”
Britcher has a long history with the twins. “I have taught Josh and Jacob since they were 3. I am very lucky to follow many of my students from the time they enter school until they leave. The boys have made tremendous progress in many ways. They are eager and willing to do just about anything they are given the opportunity to do. The first year I took them to SCIVIS, they were very leery about what they were getting themselves into. They were unsure about flying in a plane and being around people from other places. This was definitely not in their comfort zone. The boys did an amazing job of meeting other people and participating in every opportunity they were given.”
She said she’s so proud to see their progress: “Now, they look forward to this week. It is their vacation. Another great thing about the boys is that they are very appreciative of this opportunity. They realize that they are lucky to be a part of it, and they say thank you to anyone and everyone that helps to make this possible for them.”
Jacob, Joshua and Britcher appeared before the Harrison County Board of Education on Nov. 3 to give a presentation about their Space Camp experience. Britcher reports it was a great success.
“Joshua and Jacob had worked on their presentations as a follow-up activity to their trip to Huntsville. They did an exceptional job! Their enthusiasm about the experiences they’ve had at SCIVIS was evident,” she exclaimed.
Mary Matheny, who is Jacob’s English teacher and Joshua’s math teacher, attended the board presentation, too, because she said, “If a child is getting recognized, I feel like it’s our [teachers’] responsibility to go out and support our students.”
“I was very impressed,” she exclaimed. “They were knowledgeable about their experiences. It shows you how much they’ve matured … how much they’ve grown over the years.”
She added, “They look forward to Space Camp every year and start talking about going as the date approaches.”
The unique program began at the West Virginia School for the Blind in 1990, thanks to Edward Buckbee, founder of the Space Camp of Romney. In its 25 years, more than 3,500 students have attended SCIVIS.
Britcher said she’s pleased Jacob and Joshua will most likely be able to continue with the program. “The boys will have the opportunity to apply in April to return next year,” she explained. “We are very lucky in West Virginia to have the Teubert Foundation Grants, along with monies from the West Virginia School for the Blind, Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Project and the Lions Clubs to fund students and chaperones from West Virginia. The selection process takes place and those chosen will be notified by the end of the school year.”
Alexis Hall of South Harrison Middle School also attended this year’s camp.
Britcher said she doesn’t do all the work alone in creating the educational materials for SCIVIS and wanted to credit Connie Baker, a braille specialist from Harrison County Schools, who helps her. “She works diligently all summer to help create the braille and large print materials that are used,” Britcher stated.