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St. Louis-area students hope to have a blast at national rocket competition

Two girls work on rockets.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Paige Metcalf, 16, left, and Heidi Brockmann, 16, both from Fox High School, work on rockets last week at the school in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C-6 district will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.

Hundreds of teenagers from across the country will be in Washington, D.C., this weekend to launch model rockets — and more than a dozen kids from the St. Louis area are among them.

Teams from Fox and Festus high schools, and Seckman Middle School, are among the finalists in the American Rocketry Challenge. The competition requires students to build a rocket that can carry an egg to a specific altitude, stay airborne for a period of time, then bring the egg safely back to the ground.

“It’s designed to give an outlet to kids who are interested in STEM and to inspire kids who don't yet know they're interested in STEM,” said Eric Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, a sponsor of the competition.

Junior Erin Anderson is one of those students who is already interested in a career in science – her dream job is to be an aerospace engineer. Anderson competed in the finals last year, but the team at Northwest High School, in a neighboring district, went dormant when its sponsor left. This year, she is one of the captains of the Fox team, acting as a “third teacher.”

“The coolest thing is all the terminologies, because it’s just cool to use,” Anderson said, adding that she likes to show off in physics class by “using the big fancy terms, and the teacher is trying to teach the other kids the layman’s terms.”

Lily Carbone, 13, from Seckman Middle School, works on a poster during a rocketry preparation meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at Fox Senior High School in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C6 district will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Lily Carbone, 13, of Seckman Middle School, works on a poster last week in Arnold.
Lily Carbone, 13, from Seckman Middle School, colors a poster during a rocketry preparation meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at Fox Senior High School in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C6 district will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Lily Carbone, 13, of Seckman Middle School, colors a poster during a rocketry preparation meeting last week at Fox High School in Arnold.

Like Anderson, Jack Kamradt is thinking about studying engineering in college. Kamradt, a seventh grader at Seckman Middle School, got interested in rockets in second grade and was part of the Seckman team last year.

That team didn’t make it to the finals.

“We messed up a little bit because some of the information we read wrong, so we built our rockets a little odd,” Kamradt said. “But we were able to learn off of the stuff that we tried last year that didn't work. We have new designs for our nose cones and fins.”

Kamradt said even if his team doesn’t win the national competition, he’ll still have fun learning from other teams and getting to see the monuments.

Unlike Anderson and Kamradt, Fox sophomore Paige Metcalf was not into rockets when she joined the team.

“Before, I was more into biology and stuff,” she said. “Math is just not my strong suit.”

Khloe Foster, 14, an eighth grader from Seckman Middle School, paints a rocket as Paige Metsalf, 16, left, and Heidi Brockmann, 16, both from Fox High School, spray paint a rocket during a rocketry preparation meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at Fox Senior High School in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C6 district will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Khloe Foster, 14, an eighth grader of Seckman Middle School, paints a rocket as Paige Metcalf, 16, and Heidi Brockmann, 16, both of Fox Senior High School, spray-paint a rocket during a rocketry preparation meeting last week in Arnold.
Isaiah Busch, 13, a seventh grader from Seckman Middle School, spray paints a rocket during a rocketry preparation meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at Fox Senior High School in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C6 district will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Isaiah Busch, 13, a seventh grader from Seckman Middle School, spray-paints a rocket last week in Arnold.

But Metcalf enjoyed having the coach, Thomas Laybourn, as her chemistry teacher and said that made it a “no-brainer” when he asked her to participate.

“Now I feel a lot more comfortable with this sort of STEM, so that’s pretty cool,” she said, adding that she will “absolutely” join the team next year as well.

It’s the first year that Fox High School has fielded a team in the competition, and Laybourn says he is stunned it's among the 100 to attend the national finals.

“But I just knew they could do it. I just didn't know they could do it this effectively,” he said.

Thomas Laybourn, a science teacher and Fox C-6 Consolidated & Seckman Rocket Club advisor, and students cheer during a rocketry preparation meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at Fox Senior High School in Arnold. Middle and high school teams from the Fox C6 district will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the American Rocketry Challenge.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Thomas Laybourn, a science teacher and Fox C-6 Consolidated & Seckman Rocket Club adviser, cheers alongside his students during a rocketry preparation meeting last week in Arnold.

Laybourn, who learned about the competition at a science convention, said even students who don't go into STEM fields in college or beyond benefit from it.

“They’re learning problem solving. They’re learning leadership. More than anything, they’re learning confidence,” he said. “The confidence level that I see in these guys from when they start out to just the end of the year is mind blowing, and so rewarding.”

In addition to the students from Fox, Seckman and Festus, Center High School in Kansas City and Richards R5 School District in West Plains, Missouri, will also be in Washington this weekend.

The winner of the national finals gets to compete in the international challenge in England. In addition, the top 25 teams get to attend NASA’s student rocket challenge.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.