The inspirational account of a special-education teacher in a small-town high school who overcame great obstacles to bring his class to NASA’s space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
According to Kersjes, special education is the ghetto of public schooling. Regular staff look down their noses at those who teach the learning-disabled or emotionally impaired; tormented by classmates, the students themselves are aware of their inferior status. Assisted by New York–based journalist Layden, Kersjes conveys indignation but also an admirable dedication to his work. Not that he ignores its difficulties: his students are described with genuine affection, but it’s clear that many have unattractive problems and are often genuinely obnoxious. They have suffered a raw deal from life, Kersjes demonstrates, but they retain the potential to straighten out. When he proposes to send them to space camp—an intense week-long program aimed at gifted kids and packed with hands-on demonstrations, scientific competitions, and simulated space-shuttle missions, with every class ranked on the final day—his students love the idea, but his superiors hate it. NASA officials give it the brush-off too, but Kersjes persists. An amazingly helpful congressman twists a few arms, and approval soon follows. Raising $50,000 for expenses seems impossible when dozens of grant requests are rejected, but finally a rich businessman opens his checkbook. Then come months of intense classroom education in science and rocketry; Kersjes prays that his kids’ performance will not compare too badly to that of the gifted classes and that the stress will not provoke anyone to behavior that would disgrace the group. To his delight, the students perform brilliantly. Final scoring places them near the top, and they return home in triumph.
A feel-good story with a predictable outcome—but Kersjes tells some hard truths along the way.