“Rocketry and Aerodynamic Design” transitions into an eighth-period class

The class was previously a club led by former OPUSD Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight

Rocketry and Aerodynamic Design is now a yearlong eighth-period class at Oak Park High School. Held in room C-1 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m, the class is instructed by engineering, architecture, woodworking and ceramics teacher Allan Prescott.

Prior to this year, Rocketry was a club led by former Oak Park Unified School District’s Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight. When retiring from his position, Knight pushed for Rocketry to become an official class at Oak Park High School.

“Dr. Knight didn’t want to lose the club,” Prescott said.

In order to add Rocketry into the OPHS course curriculum, the district first had to find a teacher willing to teach the class. According to Prescott, the majority of contacted teachers were interested in having Rocketry be part of the regular school day.

“When I heard there was a chance [that option] may not fly, I went to Dr. Knight and we talked,” Prescott said. “I told him that I’d be more than happy to run this at night.”

As an eighth-period course, students are now able to fit Rocketry into their schedule without having to switch around their regular first through sixth-period classes.

“There were always students from my Intro to Engineering class who wanted to take the Aerodynamics class but couldn’t fit it into their schedule,” Prescott said. “Moving it to the end of the day would have helped open it up to them.”

With that, Dr. Knight, Prescott, OPHS vice principal Natalie Smith and former OPHS vice principal Kevin Buchanan created a curriculum over this summer and submitted it to the Board of Education for approval.

Senior Matin Nawabi mentors students as Rocketry’s TA

Once the class was approved, Smith sent out a StudentSquare post on July 21 to allow students to select it during registration. Rocketry proved to be so popular that it quickly became overfilled.

“We were hoping to keep the class in the twenties—it ended up in the forties,” Prescott said. “Still, it’s a pleasure to work with all these students. For an eighth-period class, there’s not a lot of monkey business going on.”

One of the advantages of holding Rocketry as a class is that it is now counted for both an OPHS grade and the UC/CSU ‘A-G’ course requirements under the ‘G’ General Electives category.

Along with Prescott, district volunteer Paul Avery helps mentor the eighth-period class. Avery has worked with Dr. Knight since Rocketry was a club, and this year, he has observed significant changes.

“When Aerodynamics was a club, students showed up when they wanted and tended to wait till the last minute [to complete designs] because to them, deadlines were always months and months away,” Avery said. “But now, they are very serious and we are on the right timeline in preparation for the competition.

Senior Paul Drews notes the overall encouraging environment of Rocketry.

“Everyone is laid-back and talks with each other,” Drews said. “Even though the teachers give us latitude, we still have something to do and learn every class period.”

Rocketry’s all-girls team listen to instruction from Avery

Among rocket construction and design, students learn virtual 3D layouts and basic software programming.

“There is a lot of new ground to cover,” Avery said. “For many of them, this may be the first time they have ever glued anything together or cut a piece of wood.”

Senior Till Landwehr found out about Rocketry through a friend, and this is his first year being involved in the team.

“I enjoy the class because I love working with my hands on a physical object,” Landwehr said. “Additionally, collaboration with other people is easy because it is highly encouraged in the class anyways.”

For Senior Jack Carr, Rocketry offers the perfect introduction to his future career choice.

“I want to be an aerospace engineer,” Carr said. “For me, this class offers a good introduction to aero design and the mechanics of a rocket.”

Another aspect of the class Prescott is trying to implement is teaching his students how to fly drones.

“At the age of 15, students can get their drone-pilots license,” Prescott said. “I’m finishing up my drone license, and that will be another part that will be added maybe next year.”

Seniors Till Landwehr (top) and Jack Carr (bottom) assemble his motor (Minnoli Nori)

Currently, the class has been divided into teams that are building functioning rockets. After holding test flights on the OPHS baseball field, they will then know which aspects of their rockets to fix in preparation for their participation in the 20th anniversary of The American Rocketry Challenge.

Taking place in early May, TARC is the world’s largest rocketry contest with nearly 5,000 students nationwide competing each year. The winning team will win $100,000 in prizes and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Farnborough Airshow in Hampshire, England.

To qualify for TARC, teams will have to send in three official flights with their rocket. These three scores will be totaled and the teams will know if they’ve qualified by early April.

Teams are allowed to test fly their rockets however many times they choose before doing an official flight. Once the team sees that their scores are becoming consistent and that they’ve fine-tuned their rocket to their liking, they can request an official flight.

But, as always, there also lie multiple risks.

“Students can have an amazing test flight one day with great scores and decide to do an official flight the next day,” Prescott said. “But on fly-day, their rocket can break down when their motor could’ve run perfectly the day before. So, there are always those issues present.”

Still, Prescott and Avery are optimistic.

“Around 4 of our teams have reached TARC in the last 12 years of Rocketry,” said Avery. “We are hoping that number will increase this year.”