Liberty students explore the skies

From left, Liberty Elementary fifth-grade teachers Shawn Sparks, Lisa Piatz and Karrie Velasquez let the first of their students’ balloons take off Dec. 3. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Liberty Elementary fifth-grade teachers Shawn Sparks, Lisa Piatz and Karrie Velasquez let the first of their students’ balloons take off Dec. 3.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — Literary studies met scientific exploration at Liberty Elementary Dec. 3, as three fifth-grade classrooms braved the early morning chill to send their creations into the sky.

The three classes made 15 hot air balloons between them, and Dec. 3 was the first day this year that the air was both cold and clear enough to send them aloft, with heavy supervision from their teachers.

The students’ path toward amateur ballooning began when they read “Danny the Champion of the World,” a novel by children’s author Roald Dahl. In the story, the child protagonist and his father engage in a number of activities together, including making their own hot air balloon. According to Shawn Sparks, one of the three Liberty Elementary fifth-grade teachers whose students took part in the project, the students quickly became enamored of recreating Danny’s feat in real life.

“The last time we did this, years ago, we got pretty good altitude on some of the balloons,” Sparks said Dec. 3. “One of them went up 100 feet. Each team of students is ready to fetch their balloons, but if one of them goes off the Liberty Elementary grounds, we have someone ready to drive out and go get it. We had one get as far as the stoplight at 47th Avenue and Grove Street.”

For fellow fifth-grade teacher Karrie Velasquez, though, the balloon flying was an entirely new experience.

“I have no idea how high these will get,” Velasquez said. “This is a complete experiment.”

It was also a relatively painstaking experiment for the fifth-graders, who not only had to wait a full month after finishing their balloons for just the right weather conditions to launch them, but also spent several weeks assembling the balloons in the first place.

“They made them out of tissue paper and Elmer’s glue,” Velasquez said. “They had to glue a piece, wait for it to dry, glue again, and do it all over again.”

Velasquez cited the experiment as a means of meeting state educational standards for students to engage in scientific investigation, construction and follow-through.

Velasquez, Sparks and fellow fifth-grade teacher Lisa Piatz launched the balloons for their students, by holding their open ends over a flue that was attached to a camp stove, which provided the heat to lift the balloons.

Not all of the balloons soared as majestically as eagles. At least one barely made it above the students’ heads. The first balloon of the day, however, took off like a shot, and stayed in the air for a few minutes before coming back down to earth.

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