By Michael Abeyta
DENVER (CBS4) – In a field outside of South High School on Friday, Steele Elementary fourth-graders got a lesson hundreds of kids have heard before. Mr. Ralph Sodano is lecturing them about model rockets. He tells them about installing the igniter, “You can bend it over here, you can bend it over here but do not bend it in the direction of the launch lug.”
For thirty-one years, Mr. Sodano has been teaching science at Steele. His main job is to teach about the cosmos using the planetarium at the school. He remembers, “We started out with the basic star machine and one slide projector.” Then fifteen years ago, he launched a rocketry class for gifted and talented students where young rocketeers could build and launch their own rockets as a capstone. The idea caught on. “After about four or five years the PTA saw how much fun the kids were having so they asked if we could do it at an entire grade level,” says Sodano.
For nearly ten years that’s what he’s been doing, teaching fourth graders about rockets and then bringing them out to South High to launch them. He knows they enjoy it. Sodano says, “The wow factor starts real quick after the first one’s ignited.”
He’s inspired a love of science in many students. Some like Jack Dawson come back after they’ve left Steele just to launch rockets with him. “He really influenced me to keep doing science,” says Dawson.
These students will be the last group to enjoy launch day with Mr. Sodano. After three decades of teaching, he’s retiring and the rocketry program and planetarium are retiring with him. So this launch was more than just a fun field trip. It was the only sendoff appropriate for Mr. Sodano. Student Jack Dawson laments, “I wish I could do it again with him.”
Michael Abeyta is a 4th generation Coloradan and a Multimedia Journalist for CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 5 & 6. He is on Twitter! Follow him @AbeytaCBS4.