Fort Mill Times

Students use science to 'rescue' principal

Super Spy school mom Lisa Snyder showed Holden Vincelli how a real time Spectrum Analyzer detects activity on radio waves.
Super Spy school mom Lisa Snyder showed Holden Vincelli how a real time Spectrum Analyzer detects activity on radio waves.

Fort Mill Elementary School Principal Karen Helms is lucky her students have mastered their science skills.

Helms was held hostage by unknown forces for a whole school day last week while students performed science experiments to win clues leading to her whereabouts.

It was all part of SPY Day. That stands for Science Performances for Youth Day.

Students at each grade level did experiments on prisms, heat, air pressure, infrared light and much more in 40-minute rotations. They did fingerprinting and followed a compass, all to earn clues to retrieve their school principal. All the activities were based on the state's math and science curriculum standards.

"We were trying to capitalize on the kids' natural interest in espionage and technology," Helms said. "They knew from the beginning of the year that they could do SPY Day at the end of the year if they did their best."

Helms also said volunteer participation by 15 General Dynamics engineers who participated with the children in the activities was a special bonus because, not only did the children learn science and math and about future careers in those fields, but the General Dynamics volunteers discovered what is going on in the school.

The day was funded by a $5,000 donation from General Dynamics. General Dynamics also volunteered its equipment to assist with hands-on activities.

"This is an attempt by General Dynamics to excite our children in a positive manner," said Lisa Snyder, a school mom who organized the event with her husband Jerry, an engineer who also does advance missions for the company.

"Children in grades three through five had to earn the right to participate by doing their best on the PACT. They were immersed in science all day."

Experiments included putting a smoke machine inside a garbage can, then pounding on it so the kids could actually see sound waves. They separated colors in ink with chromatography and separated light with lasers and prisms. They wrote secret messages in lemon and lime juice and created "elephant toothpaste" with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, yeast and detergent.

They learned about force and friction by thumping matchbox cars on various surfaces such as carpet, sandpaper and tile.

"It was very rewarding to hear the word 'awesome' throughout the day," Jerry Snyder said.

Near the end of the day, each class held a debriefing, then e-mailed their solutions to the puzzle to assistant principal Barbara Hartsoe. The first class at each grade level to e-mail the correct answer won a camera and tripod.

The day of espionage had a happy ending. The students rescued their principal at 2 p.m.

Just in time for the bell.