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September 21, 2014

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LV teacher, student to make science trip

Five years ago fifth-grade teacher Sharon Pearson and her student, Eric Cummins, "discovered" the JASON Project together during a live broadcast of a site expedition.

That was when the Clark County School District began participating in the technology and science program. Each year it culminates in one or more expeditions, which bring a small number of student and teacher "argonauts" from across the nation together to assist scientists and researchers with experiments at the expedition site.

Hundreds of thousands of students across the country participate in the JASON project classroom curriculum throughout the school year and view the experiments conducted at the sites during the live broadcasts.

It seems only fitting then that Cummins, now a sophomore at Faith Lutheran Junior/Senior High School, and Pearson, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenberg Elementary, have been chosen to represent Clark County as student and teacher argonauts for the next JASON Project site expedition to Monterey Bay, Calif., in March.

"I've wanted to do this ever since I saw those other kids" who were student argonauts in the first live JASON broadcast he saw with Pearson, Cummins said. "I'm way glad I was chosen."

A special treat for Cummins will be to work with the founder of the JASON Project, Robert Ballard, a scientist that also opened up the sea world to him. When Cummins was in the third grade he was given Ballard's book, "Exploring the Titanic," and has been fascinated by shipwrecks ever since. Cummins plans to be an oceanographer.

He's especially glad Pearson will be his teacher argonaut because of the friendship the two have established over the years.

"This couldn't be more perfect," Cummins said. "When they told me I had been chosen they said, 'You know you're going to have to work with your teacher argonaut.' I said ,'No problem. There's nobody I'd rather work with, she's my friend.'"

And Pearson couldn't be happier with the student argonaut selection.

"I'm thrilled to pieces that he'll be there," she said, noting that Cummins will participate in the first week of the expedition and she will take part in the second week, their time only overlapping for a few days.

And she shares Cummins enthusiasm for being chosen as an argonaut.

"I remember the first time I saw the broadcast. I walked into the room and I was just awestruck," she said.

Pearson said ever since that first viewing she has been a believer in the JASON Project and how it encourages students to pursue a career in the field of science.

Being chosen as a teacher argonaut is "a dream come true, and sometimes you don't expect dreams to come true," Pearson said.

This year's expedition will focus on studying kelp forests, something Cummins admits he knows little about.

"I know nothing about kelp except your feet get tangled up when you swim in it," Cummins said.

He could learn a few things from Pearson's class.

On a recent visit to her classroom, Pearson's students passed around specimens of kelp that Pearson had arranged to be delivered to the school for the JASON curriculum lessons. Students, who had already done research on the plant, eagerly shot their hands up when Pearson asked questions about the kelp, and took delight in measuring and analyzing kelp segments.

"I really like it when she brings in stuff we can touch and have contact with," said 10-year-old Don Peat. "She doesn't just do the JASON Project curriculum, she lets us do experiments and we learn a lot more that way."

Peat's mother, Maria, also praised the way Pearson made learning come alive for her students.

"She comes in here with so much energy, it's contagious," Peat said. "She lets them do hands-on experiments and really lets them explore. We all love her."

"I've just learned so much stuff," during the JASON studies, said 10-year-old Kandace Leavitt. "The most interesting has been finding out about kelp and the creatures that live in it."

She said before her JASON Project studies she didn't even know kelp forests existed, or that fish, sponges, stingrays, jellyfish, octopus, shrimp and lobsters live in the forests.

Pearson's students are counting on her to bring back even more information for them when she returns from the expedition to Monterey.

"She's been known to tell everything, she just can't keep stuff in," Don Peat said. He predicted that when Pearson is in Monterey, "She'll be so overwhelmed with joy, she won't be able to keep it in and will want to come back and share everything with us."

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