BOSTON — THE third-grader with the two front teeth missing wriggles his arms and head into what looks like a fancy white snowsuit that weighs about 50 pounds. He grins as a bubble-shaped helmut is placed over his head.
"Why don't you say something to the class," suggests teacher Cameron Dryden.
"Hello," he screams, but only a faint, muffled voice comes out. A room full of kids giggle and titter.
"Do some space things. Jump around," Mr. Dryden says.
The boy tries to move but can barely take a step. "Gosh, that thing is heavy," he squeals.
The "thing" is an "Extravehicular Mobility Unit" - more commonly known as a spacesuit. Astronauts use it to perform repairs or other work outside their spacecrafts.
At the Lee Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass., a neighborhood of Boston, inner-city kids get a chance to try it on for size and learn about how astronauts live in space. They're here as part of a program called "I Have A Dream."
Industrialist Eugene Lang started IHAD in 1981 with an offer to pay college tuition for a Harlem school's sixth-graders. Since then similar programs have sprouted up around the country. In 1989, Jamie Bush, a nephew of President Bush, started IHAD-Boston by offering to pay tuition for 111 fourth-graders at the Mather School in Dorchester if they graduated from high school.
The program here encourages the now-eighth-grade students to pursue their studies in a number of ways. Four days a week, after regular school hours, they meet for homework help or special field trips and classes. Today's spacesuit demonstration is one of the weekly science classes that started last summer in an effort to bolster science education. IHAD-Boston director Chris Sumner says these sessions have become a highlight of IHAD. At the beginning "a lot of guys had no interest in science." Now, some w ant the classes every day, he says. On this day they've invited younger students to attend as well.
CAMERON DRYDEN, an electrical engineer at Adaptive Optics Associates Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., volunteered to teach the classes. His company, a subsidiary of United Technologies Hamilton Standard Division, which manufactures the spacesuit, encourages employees to become involved in promoting science education in their communities.
"We go through all the different sciences," Dryden says. "We get into some fairly sophisticated concepts. It's as interactive as possible." Dryden structured each weekly session to include about 30 minutes of lecture and an hour of lab. He emphasizes hands-on experience, because many of the kids don't have labs in their regular school science classes.
Richard Futrell, one of the eighth-graders in the program, says he's learned a lot in the after-school science labs. He ticks off the other things he likes about IHAD. "We went to Washington to meet President Bush. We met [Gen.] Colin Powell. We have Harvard [University] tutors that help us with grades."