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Home-Schooler Joins Research Expedition

Herndon student one of selected few to participate in national program.

Like most 14-year-old students, Anna Dykhoff could not wait for summer to begin. But, unlike other ninth-graders, Anna was excited for summer because of the education she was about to receive.

That is because the young Herndon resident spent one week in Milwaukee and many more weeks researching for a trip to Arizona where she would spend four days learning about a meteor crater.

"We'll get to see a lot of geography around the area and find pieces of the crater," she said before her departure in September. "We'll actually hike down into the center of it, which not too many people get to do."

Anna was selected as one of 12 students across the nation to participate in a program called The JASON Project, a part of the JASON Foundation for Education.

Each year, a group of students and teachers are selected to join the JASON expedition team. Twelve participants are chosen out of hundreds of applications through a rigorous selection process.

Once chosen, the students are notified that they will have the opportunity to travel with scientists and a production crew to a remote location where the program broadcasts its international scientific expedition live to millions of students across the world. Participants like Anna are called student argonauts, and work as science ambassadors to help teach other students through the program's television broadcast.

"I LIKE THE KID'S education to be hands-on and as real-life as possible," said Sharon Dykhoff, Anna's mother. "When I first heard about the JASON Project with home schooling I wanted to get them involved."

A former middle school science teacher, Dykhoff left her job to teach her daughters from home. When she learned the program was offered to home schooled students, she immediately wanted her daughters to get involved.

"When the scientists and student argonauts are working on an expedition," she said, "we're at home doing similar experiments to that of what the researchers are doing in the field."

And although her other daughters had applied to become student argonauts, Anna was the only one to be accepted.

"I knew from having done expeditions in the past six years," she said of her involvement with the program, "that she was going to have a great experience."

Robert Ballard, the scientist and oceanographer who discovered the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1986, founded the JASON Foundation in 1989. His intent was to allow scientists from around the world participate in on-site research expeditions without being on location.

He expanded this premise to include students and teachers to enable them to participate in fieldwork from the classroom. Through a partnership of private industry, scientific research facilities, museums, government and educational organizations, Ballard was able to broadcast a Mediterranean Sea expedition to classrooms for the first time.

Since then the JASON Project has included more than 33,000 teachers and 1.7 million students around the world in its expeditions.

As technology has progressed, the program has become more interactive, allowing students to go on-line for face-to-face curriculum training and additional learning.

And, for fortunate students like Anna, the program already has her thinking about what she wants to study in college.

BECAUSE THIS YEAR'S theme for the expeditions is for students to explore the latest Mars research, Anna has found herself leaning toward pursuing a career as an astro-geologist with NASA.

"When kids are younger they always say they want to be an astronaut," she said. "But I never wanted to be one because they have to eat bad food and being in space for a long time can be bad for your muscles. But, I love astrology and I have always wanted a job with NASA."

During training, Anna collected water samples and other environmental data from a quarry, the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan with scientists. They then compared extreme environments found on Earth with those found on Mars.

After that, Anna said a career that mixed Earth and space became very appealing.

"The cool thing about astronomy is that it doesn't have a limit," she said. "And as technology advances more and more you can learn more.

"As far as geology, I don't really know why I like it," she said. "I really like rocks — I like just studying the small different rocks."

During her Arizona expedition, Anna had many chances to study the various layers of rock. Because she spent more than three weeks researching about meteors and the crater she was about to explore, she said she was excited to see up close what she had read so much about.

As student Argonauts, Anna and her peers were required to spend their summer training for their roles. That included reading books, conducting experiments, completing assignments and chatting on-line with other members of the research team, before actually leaving.

While most of her friends were out in the sun this summer, Anna spent her days doing homework and retaining as much information as she could for her trip.

And loving every minute of it.

"My friends were pretty understanding with my homework and trainings because they knew how excited I was," she said.

EVEN AFTER HER expedition in Arizona, Anna will continue to compare and contrast the environments of the two planets through the JASON Project Mysteries of Earth and Mars science and math curriculum.

And, in January and February of next year, she will be teaching students around the world about the layers of the Arizona meteor crater through the live broadcast of her expedition.

"Before becoming a JASON Argonaut," said the 14-year old, "I didn't even know the meteor existed."