May 24, 2012
Meet the ‘Fly Boys’ of Memphis, the Future of American Education

With bright pops and trailing screams, hand-built rockets fly toward the sun in graceful (occasionally precarious) arcs. High school students from across the country huddle together anxiously, waiting for their turns to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The task is not easy: Each rocket has to propel two eggs to an altitude of 800 feet and return them safely to the ground within 43 to 48 seconds. The tension subsides only when competitors hear the faint crack from their rocket at the peak of flight, indicating the parachute has deployed and the cargo has a chance of survival. Some rockets perform exceptionally; others misfire. But with every “three, two, one… launch!” the crowd’s attention grows intensely focused. Rocket launches, however many dozen in a row, do not stop being cool.
It’s a warm but thankfully unhumid day in The Plains, Virginia, about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. Wesley Carter and Darius Hooker, two high school seniors from Wooddale High School in Memphis, Tennessee, are making final adjustments — compensating for a two-knot breeze and low humidity — to their white 90 centimeter rocket.
"It’s pretty tense right now; I’m just trying to hope everything goes according to plan," Carter tells me minutes before the launch.
It has taken three years of planning, drafting plans on computer software, and meticulous trial-and-error for these Memphis teens to compete against America’s top 100 model rocketry teams. And they almost didn’t make it to the contest. […]
Carter and Hooker represent a rare success for two struggling systems: They are from one the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, in the one of the worst school systems in the state, but they are pursuing careers in a field that many people their age have discounted. And they are excelling. What counts for their success?
Read more. [Image: Brian Resnick]

Meet the ‘Fly Boys’ of Memphis, the Future of American Education

With bright pops and trailing screams, hand-built rockets fly toward the sun in graceful (occasionally precarious) arcs. High school students from across the country huddle together anxiously, waiting for their turns to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The task is not easy: Each rocket has to propel two eggs to an altitude of 800 feet and return them safely to the ground within 43 to 48 seconds. The tension subsides only when competitors hear the faint crack from their rocket at the peak of flight, indicating the parachute has deployed and the cargo has a chance of survival. Some rockets perform exceptionally; others misfire. But with every “three, two, one… launch!” the crowd’s attention grows intensely focused. Rocket launches, however many dozen in a row, do not stop being cool.

It’s a warm but thankfully unhumid day in The Plains, Virginia, about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. Wesley Carter and Darius Hooker, two high school seniors from Wooddale High School in Memphis, Tennessee, are making final adjustments — compensating for a two-knot breeze and low humidity — to their white 90 centimeter rocket.

"It’s pretty tense right now; I’m just trying to hope everything goes according to plan," Carter tells me minutes before the launch.

It has taken three years of planning, drafting plans on computer software, and meticulous trial-and-error for these Memphis teens to compete against America’s top 100 model rocketry teams. And they almost didn’t make it to the contest. […]

Carter and Hooker represent a rare success for two struggling systems: They are from one the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, in the one of the worst school systems in the state, but they are pursuing careers in a field that many people their age have discounted. And they are excelling. What counts for their success?

Read more. [Image: Brian Resnick]

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