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Friday, May 6, 2016

Reaching for the Stars: Kindergartener studies science, dreams big

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vivon Ward, a kindergartener at Thomas Magnet School, was the first 5-year-old, and the first Bedford County student, to participate in NASA's Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy held at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
At age 5, Vivon Ward is the youngest child, and the only one from Bedford County, ever to attend NASA's Science Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA), a nationwide program which has had a presence in Tennessee since 2004.

The Thomas Magnet School kindergartener, son of Teaquicia Ward and Kieran Ward, is interested in space.

"When you go in outer space," he said, "you get to float."

He builds toy planes and rockets and enjoys boomerangs.

You might think his aspiration is to be an astronaut -- and it may well go in that direction. But, prodigy or no, he is a 5-year-old. When asked about his career plans, he says he wants to "save people if they get almost hurt." His mother thinks that may mean being a doctor, but when Vivon is pushed further, the word "superhero" pops out. (He is wearing a Spider-Man tie and a Spider-Man watch, along with a NASA sticker on his suit jacket.)

Teaquicia tells him he can be whatever he wants to be.

Opening children's eyes to new possibilities is part of what SEMAA is all about. Teaquicia heard about the program from a cousin in West Tennessee, Martha Jean Taylor, who has a master's in education. Local space educator Billy Hix had inspired Vivon's interest in space, and the family attended a "Star of Bethlehem" program that Hix conducted earlier this year at First United Methodist Church. (Hix will present a similar program Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church.) After seeing Hix's program, which discusses possible astronomical conditions during the time of Jesus' birth, Vivon decided he wanted a telescope.

SEMAA is held at Tennessee State University and other locations across the country. It includes hands-on, inquiry based STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula for students in grades K-12. The Aerospace Education Library is a computerized classroom teaching kids about aeronautics, microgravity and flight.

The Family Café program, which Teaquicia said has been very helpful to her as a parent, is an interactive forum and a series of activities for parents of SEMAA students to encourage and enable them to support their child's interest in science and math.

SEMAA also includes professional development for participating teachers and customized educational opportunities and outreach.

There's no cost except time to participate in SEMAA programs, said Teaquicia.

In addition to his interest in science, Vivon enjoys music. He plays guitar and drums and takes music lessons from Jonathan Fletcher Music in Smyrna. He'd like to have a band some day, and has even picked out a name: The Nunchuks. Just as Billy Hix encouraged his interest in space, another well-known local resident -- singer Kacey Smith -- encouraged him to learn the guitar. He's also a fun of Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Jason Aldean.

Scientist ... superhero ... doctor ... musician? Vivon is beginning to sound a little like Buckaroo Banzai, hero of the tongue-in-cheek 1984 film "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension." But childhood is supposed to be a time when the possibilities are endless. Hopefully, education and hard work will eventually take Vivon, and others like him, closer to satisfying careers in whatever path they eventually choose.

Proponents of STEM education say it's necessary for the U.S. to encourage more children to seek science-oriented careers if America is to keep its technological advantage.

It may be little things -- words of encouragement from people like Billy Hix, and Kacey Smith -- that make the difference. Teaquicia notes the influence of teachers like Vivon's pre-K director, Mary Ann Nelson, and his kindergarten teacher, Jenny Haskins.

The Wards attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

More information about SEMAA is available at http://www.tnstate.edu/semaa or http://www.nasa.gov.

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