Educators - Teachers' Letters
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Thank you to all the kind teachers who gave permission to reprint their special letters about their experiences with the Rocket Boys' story in their classrooms. We are thrilled to have heard from over 300 schools who are studying about the Rocket Boys of Coalwood, WV last year alone. This story is a celebration of YOU, who in our opinion are "angels on earth", the unselfish educators who make a such a difference to the youth of our nation. We honor and thank all of you for this investment in our future.

10th grade Special-Ed reads book, then the film helps raise self esteem
Dear Mr. Hickam: Just writing to let you know that I enjoyed using your book as a reading assignment with my 10th grade students for the past 3 years. I am a special education teacher in a rural community in Wisconsin, and have used your book to raise the educational interest and self-esteem of my students.

My students read the book (Rocket Boys) orally in class, and we discuss your story in even greater detail. We also use the film "October Sky", for further understanding and discussion. I cannot even express how your story has helped raised their self-esteem from a "I can't" to a I'll try" attitude. Working with special education students (learning and behaviorally disabled) I am always looking for true-life experiences of individuals who over-came obstacles in their lives, to pursue their dreams. Your story is an inspiration to that end. Although, I am sure you receive many emails regarding your books, I felt that I just needed let you know how much I appreciated your work, and that your story also inspired me, to elevate my expectations and goals for my students.

8th grade reads book
I teach 8th grade physical science, and year before last I taught reading in the content area as well. I saw the "October Sky" movie and thought it would be very informative, interesting, and inspirational for my students, 70-75% of whom are black, at risk, and in a general environment like the one you came from, with the only way out being athletic accomplishments (even if only perceived as so.) I told one of my team members about wanting to show the movie, and she said "Why don't you have them read the book?" Excellent idea! I taught it to 5 sections of students (about 25 each). The first group was only a few pages behind me each day (I was reading and making out quizzes for every other chapter), but I was able to polish my presentation and technique with each successive class. I worked with the librarian who determined the book was written on the 8th grade level (using some formula), which was perfect because I feel people often "teach down" to our kids. She approved the book for 26 "Accelerated Reader" points and I made out the accelerated reader test and the exam. The kids really liked the book (because it was interesting and because it was worth so many points); but it really all came together when they saw the movie after reading the book.

We weren't teaching reading the same way this year, but I was able to show the movie (takes two class periods), mostly because I want my kids to be inspired. After seeing the movie and finding out I had copies of the book available, the students rushed to check them out--even students in my study hall (when's the last time students in study hall were taught anything?). I enjoyed your book as well. You showed me, that as I am, other scientists can be sensitive and artistic and very verbally descriptive. Plummer Jones

Religion teacher uses required reading of "October Sky"
Dear Mr. Hickam, Thank you for taking the time to write Rocket Boys (October Sky). Your book is required summer-break reading for our students. I am a religion teacher and decided to read what was on the reading list.

I was deeply touched by your desire to not only talk about building rockets but also to honor those people whom you describe in your book. The very last paragraph of your text beautifully summarized much of what you wanted to say about the experiences of your youth. Your book qualifies as an ode about love.

I am the moderator of an after-school activity, a computer and amateur radio club. Instead of sending rockets to the sky, we try to contact the ones that are there, via amateur radio. Our best success was contacting the MIR space station laptop computer via 2 meter packet radio.

Having read your book I am inspired to do even more to learn, to persevere, and to enjoy the adventure of discovery. My students in class will, no doubt, sense my enthusiasm in all I do.

Father Dan McLaughlin, O.S.A.
Monsignor Bonner High School
Drexel Hill PA 19026

Freshman English classes study book for the third year
In three freshman English classes, I have students working on several projects related to Homer's memoir. This is the third year that I have taught ROCKET BOYS in my classroom. I shared my copy with our Dept. Chair and she agreed that it would be a welcome addition to our curriculum. I have developed 10-15 projects related to the novel, a 4-5 week reading schedule, an activity demonstrating group dynamics and teamwork, parent/child conflict, and some student presentations related to propulsion (crude!). Three groups of students are writing to other schools reading the book too to explore ideas, responses, and to just expand their view of school, growing up, etc. Last year I had students design a machine/vehicle/rocket that was propelled by a NON chemical/fuel /electric means. This project was very entertaining! We had catapults, balloon powered objects, giants slings, compressed air rockets, guide wire vehicles, and things I can't even describe or give a name to!

We really feel that Homer's book helps us to look not only up, but also to the future! We hope next year to contact other schools who are reading Rocket Boys/October Sky too. Please email us about it:

Mr. Kiki Leyba, English Department Columbine High School

Workplace Readiness for sophomores
Dear Mr. Hickam, I am a vocational education teacher at a small high school in the north. For the past 7 years I have taught a class required of all sophomores called Workplace Readiness. I discovered the movie "October Sky" quite by accident a few years ago. In class, we cover many issues related to the workplace but one of the most important, I feel, is matching interests to career. I have shown the movie every semester since I became aware of it. It ties in nicely with concepts such as problem solving, self motivation, and taking responsibility. The students really like it and I feel if it succeeds in encouraging one of them to dream big and follow that dream the time is well spent. Thanks for sharing your story. KIP

Uses Movie to teach English
I work with International Students here at a technical university. I bought the movie October Sky to show to all the students who come to my house, then we have discussions about it. Also I teach Conversational English to the students, many are Chinese scholars, and other visiting scholars in the Engineering Departments. I am showing the movie to these classes in order to teach them English conversation and American culture.

Science class assigns BOOK
Hello Mr. Hickam, I am an eighth grade science teacher in California. Part of our curriculum focuses on part of our unit this year I assigned "October Sky" for my students to read (personally, I enjoyed it tremendously). At first, as most eighth graders do, they whined and complained about having to read, especially in Science, not English! Well, after a few weeks I began to hear comments like, "You know, Mrs. Dalcamo, that's a really good book, I liked it a lot." I knew they would!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for putting such an inspiring story down for all of us to enjoy...One of my hopes as a teacher is that I can inspire some of my students to "reach for the stars." After reading your story, I hope that my students are fueled with more desire to achieve their dreams. Thanks again. LD

My gift
Dear Mr. Hickam, Thank you for the great gift you have given me in your books "Rocket Boys/October Sky" and " The Coalwood Way." My father graduated from Big Creek High in the early 1940s. I have heard many stories about War and Caretta (where my father lived) all my life and very little of what I have heard has ever seemed positive (much of it from my mother's point of view)! I have always felt he came from the bowels of the earth, from a dreadful life of coal dust, miners and hardship.

My father worked in the mines less than a week before he chose instead to join the Army and go off to war! One of his brothers was killed in a mine explosion which killed many men of that area in the late 1950s, his father finally died of black lung in 1976. I have always had a strong draw to know more about the history of the mines and the area, I (more than my sisters) have always felt it is part of my heritage which I not quite grasp. But, I never saw the beauty or the "normalcy" of growing up there...being a kid just like kids everywhere. You gave me that gift and I feel I know my dad and some of my history better now. I have a more complete mental picture of his life now thanks to you. My mother and I are planning a trip back to the area to do some exploring. I was transported while reading " The Coalwood Way." I wish my dad was still alive so I could talk with him about his life there. I will, however, be attending a family reunion in Charleston later this month and look forward to talking with (and picking the brains of) my aunt and uncles about all I have learned!

My sister rented "October Sky" on a whim - not knowing the story. Luckily, my Mom was with us and was able to fill us in our how this pertained to our history - what a great surprise! We were really pleased to learn about your story. I have since made this movie a staple in my classroom (I am a history teacher in a high school). My students never expect to like the movie, but always end up transfixed! I teach in an "at-risk" school. So many of my kids don't see they will be able to get out of the "hood" and out of the westside. I liken Coalwood to their world and tell them if you could dream big there and then, so can they!

Thanks for your words and your pictures. I appreciate what you have given me.

Inspired to become a teacher
Most of the letters in your "Teacher" Section in your Web site were about how teachers were inspiring their students with your book (or movie). This letter is about how one teacher was inspired to become a teacher because of your movie. I was a music teacher and I always felt that I was better in math than music. I went back to school to become a math teacher, but the road was long and discouraging. Around the time I was about to give up I saw "October Sky". The lesson from the movie to follow your dream (in my case, to be a Math teacher) really spoke to where I was at the time. I read the book and watched the movie often, every time I needed inspiration. I am now a Pre-calculus teacher in a High School!! Thank you for the needed inspiration to continue. DN

Mr. Hickam, I've been to Huntsville, Kennedy, and to the naval museum in Pensacola. But all the pictures and paraphernalia I've brought back haven't made a dent compared to the impact of the movie OCTOBER SKY. Here's we use it and other stories:

1. FLY AWAY HOME is a kid's story, right? We use the story because in it a girl learns to communicate with her dad and to reach down to a strength she didn't know was in her, through learning to fly (an ultra light).

2. FLIGHT IN THE NEWS: We read about Spacehab, and share information about it and other flight/space events in the news with each Friday's current events focus.

"MY STORY": I introduce them to an interviewing project due in a matter of weeks: Sit down with your oldest relative, have him/her to show you how to cook something grand, and loan you all kinds of relics to help us "picture" their life, as they tell you their amazing story of the 20th century that they have witnessed. We want to hear about the impact of technologies, how these affected people's character and social habits, how their lives started out and changed. Students & grandparents have time to consider this while we read a novel set in the 1930s/'40s.

4. OCTOBER SKY: Then, (where your story comes in), I do my 'eyewitness the 20th century' presentation first and share my dad's/grandfather's coal mining life. I tell them that my dad saw Sputnik. And we sample some of my grandma's cooking and quilting and memoirs, and I show October Sky. And they get the whole reality of pushing through the communication barrier within the family, defining identity and success, all through building a rocket that would fly.

5. OUR FUTURE: And after that, my classroom is never the same. The first time I used the movie, I had to throw out all the lesson plans I had after that, because our room took on a whole new focus. Now I have them to go a step forward and write a letter to some college or tech school or business to help them get acquainted with their future. They're only freshmen, and it's a great time to get their attention. We mailed our letters this weekend.

Last year, one of my kids broke down during her presentation. She was all dressed up, served us one of her granny's delectable recipes, and set up all kinds of relics to evoke a former era. Then she started crying. "I want to thank you for having us do this research. There has been a lot of bickering in my family. This project gave me a reason to know a grandmother I otherwise wouldn't have met."

Kids come back and ask, "Do you still use October Sky?" I don't know, maybe it was just for that group. Maybe that's what education is -- learning who your kids are, and finding out what meets each group's needs. Maybe it's for every American.

I've read 'Rocket Boys' to know how close Hollywood was able to come. I appreciate the fact that there are teacher resources online on your site. Thank you for responding to my email and giving me a real world resource.
Kelly Pate, Sycamore High School, Pleasant View, TN

Teacher with a "lunar" question
Dear Mr. Hickam: Fox network aired a broadcast recently about the "conspiracy" over the first landing on the moon.

I am a high school teacher, and some of my students have been stirred up about this topic. I don't even teach science, but we discuss current events and read OCTOBER SKY in my English classroom.

How to answer their questions? I wonder if the people airing this have any idea who's listening. Kelly

Dear Kelly:

Tell them Homer said some of his best friends were Apollo astronauts and they are among the most honorable men he's ever known. Tell them that I personally know of men here in Huntsville who built rockets with Wernher von Braun who literally worked themselves to death to build the Saturn V moon rocket in time to meet President Kennedy's requirement to land a man on the moon during the 1960's. Tell them the moon is a far different place than earth (no atmosphere, 1/6 gravity, a sixth of the size) which explains most of the trumped-up nonsense in that program concerning light and shadows and other images. Tell them there is nearly a half-ton of lunar rocks in Houston which can only be formed in the vacuum and gravity of the moon. Tell them that the only mistake that we ever made going to the moon was that we stopped. Tell them we will be going back.

Thanks for worrying but some folks can always be fooled by such programs. Those people, in fact, can be fooled by just about anything.

Thanks for being a teacher.
Homer Hickam
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