By DAVID KRIER
What do you get when you add triplet teachers with decades of educational experience and a passion for science to a 45-foot, 20-ton tour bus? Since the summer of 2006 the answer to that question has been the Dream Flight USA Foundation’s “Spirit of Education,” the flagship of the foundation’s STEM Shuttle program.
The Spirit of Education landed at Boscobel Elementary School Monday for a 3-day interactive learning experience focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The visit was made possible through local donations and the vision of Sharon Ryan, a fifth grade teacher in Wausau and creator of the Dream Flight USA Foundation—dedicated to STEM education for elementary and middle school students.
The STEM Shuttle program began in June 2006 with a visit to the Deke Slayton AirFest in La Crosse. Back then, the vehicle was simply a "shuttle" named the Spirit of Education. On its sides were likenesses of a United States shuttle.
Ryan realized back in 2006 that the day would come when the NASA Shuttle Program would end. And as promised, the excitement of the shuttle lift offs from Florida ended when the construction of the International Space Station was completed in 2011.
The following year, it was decided to make a dramatic change to the Dream Flight USA vehicle. However, unlike the new and smaller manned space vehicles being planned by private contractors and NASA, the Dream Flight USA shuttle was going to maintain the capacity for a large crew. Two pilots, three teachers, and 20 students would make up the crew of the new STEM Shuttle.
Fun curriculum items featured in Boscobel, as well as Richland Center and North Crawford last week, included how to design a space station, lessons on lunar and solar eclipses, the Hubble Telescope, star maps, a robotic arm and spectronomy.
Among the teachers in Boscobel this week were Ryan’s sisters—Sue Bushman and Sandy Smith. All three are veteran educators with a passion for STEM education, and they’re triplets.
Ryan will be retiring as a full-time teacher at the end of the current school year, but has had more than her share of awards over the years.
She is the recipient of the prestigious Presidential Award for Elementary Mathematics and Science Teaching. Other honors include being named the Wisconsin Elementary Teacher of the Year, the Wisconsin Space and Aviation Teacher of the Year, the Wausau YWCA Woman of Vision Award, the Award of Excellence from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Technology Education Association - Award of Excellence in Elementary Technology Integration, and Distinguished Science Teacher Award-Wisconsin Elementary Science Teachers.
Bushman is a veteran On Board Teacher, and has traveled with the STEM Shuttle throughout the state. She began her second teaching career after retiring from the Wisconsin Rapids School District in 2012.
Smith is an experienced On Board Teacher on the STEM Shuttle, traveling to several schools throughout the region on an annual basis. She also began her second teaching career after retiring from the Wisconsin Rapids School District in 2012.
The original Dream Flight program was featured on Good Morning America and was chosen as one of the top 30 innovative programs in the United States by PBS New York’s “Searching for a Hero.”