Nobody said elementary schools can’t be places of higher learning.
Nobody, at least, told Lee Teitsworth. The Rochester, N.Y., captain with Liberty Balloon Company made a surprise visit Thursday morning for students at Fort Mill Elementary School. He brought an assembly lesson on science and math.
He also brought a hot air balloon.
“This will just be off the ground a little bit,” said Teitsworth, who regularly floats his hot air balloon between 4,000 and 6,000 feet, but can go up to 10,000.
Born into a ballooning family, Teitsworth went on his first flight at 6 months old. At 11 — the age of the oldest students on hand Thursday — he first took the controls. Control was a relative term Thursday, literally changing with the winds as parent volunteers, teachers and administrators helped launch the balloon.
“Weather forecasting is key for us,” Teitsworth said. “We usually go up in the morning or evening when it’s calmer. It can’t be windy.”
Hot air balloons rely heavily on science and math, from checking weather forecasts to heating up the air inside to provide lift. Temperature and pressure are key. And captains have more to worry about than an answer marked wrong if they fail. Balloons can’t stop, turn or change elevation on a dime.
The balloon “activates interest” in the lesson, Teitsworth said, that skills learned in school have all sorts of applications.
“We’ve generated an educational program out of it,” he said. “It touches on general aviation, but (also) history and how things work and everything.”
The school is doing its part, too. Every student heard a read-aloud on hot air balloons. Teachers didn’t tell the students why, but it started to make sense Thursday morning.
“I think it really connected for them,” said Jocelyn Young, school principal.
Though it took up a full playground on its on, the hot air balloon actually was part of a larger effort at the school. Thursday night was STEM night, where parents and families were invited to come see what students are learning.
“We really wanted to focus on STEM — the science, technology, engineering and mathematics at our school that’s a really big focus for us this year,” said Tonya Pike, parent organizer. “We were trying to find an assembly that would kind of tie all of those things together.”
School leaders guessed most students have never seen a hot air balloon, certainly as close as it was Thursday. Making for a lesson, they say, students may not soon forget.
“We wanted it to be something memorable for the children but also something that was hands-on that they could actually see the science come alive in front of them,” Pike said.