On Saturday, May 30, Bunny, and I watched Doug Hurly, and Bob Behnken lift-off from the historic Launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center on the Spacex’s Dragon Space Craft. With the last Shuttle launch in 2011, this event was monumental and a positive experience for a year that has been exploding with pandemics, protests, and politics. During a prelaunch interview, the astronauts noted the reason they wanted to go to the Space Station on an American Rocket was to set an example and inspire students to get involved with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities. Of course, weather prevented the launch on Friday, but all systems were Go on Saturday for the perfect blast-off. By Sunday afternoon, the men were aboard the Space Station, and all was well.
However, no matter how much I tried, I could not focus on this launch without thinking of my friend Laura and how excited she would be to see America taking astronauts back into space. Laura Feagin Jones was a dedicated Science Teacher who loved her students and wanted to give them every opportunity to learn especially through hands on experiences.
In the mid- 1980s an opportunity was offered to visit Space Camp in Titusville Florida by the local 4-H Program. Laura was the first teacher to inquire and immediately she and I began planning a trip. The first trip was not without a few blunders, but the experience was enough to make Laura committed to the space program and to put Space Camp on her calendar every year. Space Camp offered a simulated Space Flight Mission, motion-based simulators, visits to Kennedy’s Space Center and other space related activities. When Space Camp in Florida closed, we took her students once to Huntsville’s Space Camp and after that planned our own Science and Technology Experience in Florida. Over the years, the two of us enjoyed many trips to Florida but perhaps our favorite two trips were when we saw a Shuttle launch and land while at Space Camp. Our group considered it an honor to view a Shuttle night launch and a daytime landing from the observation deck in Titusville. Of course, it must also be mentioned that it was tradition to watch the movie Apollo 13 on the way home from Florida. As time went on Laura and I rotated trips to Florida with trips to Washington DC to give students more educational opportunities. Laura Jones always put her students first.
In addition, as a true science teacher, Laura educated youth on the importance of recycling, litter reduction, and waste management. While teaching she worked with the “Green Girls Club” who supported environmental projects like painting water barrels for a Keep America Beautiful Project. Her classes were always involved in litter pickups during the Great American Cleanup and after hours of picking up trash, her students promised never to litter again! Laura was presented the Lady Bird Johnson Award in 2011 at the Chamber Banquet for her environmental work. This dedicated teacher also served as a 4-H Volunteer Leader and took students to various judging competitions around the state. Because of her dedication, Laura was recognized at State 4-H Congress at Clemson as a State 4-H Volunteer Leader of the Year.
My friend was also named Teacher of the Year four times and was presented the Alumni of the Year for Williamsburg Academy in 2003. Laura’s death in 2018 may have shortened her life, but the legacy she left in the hearts of her family, students, friends, and colleagues is alive and well today. Just like the two astronauts, Laura truly set a good example for education and inspired her students to learn about the wonderful world around them. Perhaps while I was remembering Laura during the launch, she was watching the lift-off from her eternal home in the most heavenly places.
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