Radio Club Allows Middle School Students To Reach Out
By Mike D’Agruma
COPLEY — Not many people can say they know someone on just about every continent on the globe. Copley-Fairlawn Middle School Principal Bob Whitacker knows about 10 to 15 people who can make that claim. To be more specific, 10 to 15 who are under the age of 11.
Whitacker is a big fan of the middle school’s Amateur Radio Club, which is close to celebrating its first year of existence. The students involved in the extra-curricular program have been learning how to operate ham radios, their efforts bringing them into communication with fellow amateur radio operators from Argentina to Japan.
The club was put together by Copley resident and amateur radio operator Dr. David Dressler. Along with other members of the Cuyahoga Amateur Radio Society (CARS), Dressler has been guiding the students and instructing them on the various nuances of radio operation in addition to helping them prepare to test for operator certification. So far, six students have earned their first license.
“I’m interested in the students,” Dressler said. “You’re not just teaching them a skill and hobby that they can use for the rest of their lives ... they learn about the technology and the circuitry.”
According to Dressler, the program was made possible by the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), a national organization that has more than 100,000 licensed radio operators. The AARL sponsors what they call the “Big Project,” where $3,000 is donated to a school for the funding of radio equipment. Dressler said about 200 schools in the United States are currently taking part in the program.
Of course, the club goes far beyond just learning ham radio operation. According to Whitacker, the students inadvertently get geography lessons as they start mapping and keeping track of various contacts they’ve made. They also get some insight into other cultures when they speak with an overseas friend. (In case you’re wondering, English is the worldwide ham radio language, according to Whitacker.)
The students also engage in a number of activities outside the school, which includes community service projects where they assist organizations like the American Red Cross with communications.
They’ve also been on field trips to see more complicated professional radio setups and have had visits from amateur radio operators and servicemen who shared their experiences of using ham radios during World War II.
Both Whitacker and Dressler see the students bridging a generation gap between themselves and older ham radio operators as a result of these visits and demonstrations. Whitacker also has seen, and likes, how the program has been bridging a social gap that exists within the school.
“There’s a nice mix of girls and boys [in the program],” Whitacker said. “You really see kids from all strata of middle school society. It’s neat to see all these kids getting along.”
He also said the program has been a good fit for children who don’t seem to be interested in any of the school’s more traditional extra-curricular activities.
“Now there’s something for everyone,” he said.
For now, the club continues to crank out certified radio operators who are interested in taking their next conversations beyond the confines of the planet Earth. According to Dressler, the club has put in an application to be allowed to speak with members of a space station.
He said that in order for the students to get the opportunity, they first have to set up a time with NASA and be placed on a very long list of radio operators who are in line for the chance to have an eight-minute conversation with the station. He also said the club would need to purchase a special satellite dish that can track the station as it moves.
Until that day comes, the students are happy to expand their knowledge of radio operation and list of global contacts.
“The interesting thing is [the overseas contacts] all speak English and they’re interested in the students,” Dressler said.
The Copley-Fairlawn Middle School Amateur Radio Club
Photo courtesy of Bob Whitacker
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