Steve Lalonde, WA7WKX
The ARRL and University High School join forces to bring Amateur Radio to students.
I started teaching in 1972 in Glenwood, Washington, a small logging community at the base of Mount Adams. In 1974 one of my students and several community members asked if I would help them get their Amateur Radio licenses. We set up classes and the one student and three community members earned their Novice class licenses. Thus began my career as an Elmer.
After 3 years in Glenwood I left teaching returning in 1984 to teach at University High School in Spokane, Washington. My primary assignment was media production as well as teaching classical mythology. As part of the media production classes, notably Introduction to Radio and Television Production, I introduced students to the hobby of Amateur Radio. Some students chose to work with me after school in an effort to earn a license. By 2001, 15 students had earned Technician class licenses and two had gone on to General. Then I heard about the ARRL’s “Big Project,” now known as the ARRL Education & Technology Program (ETP).
A Ground Floor Opportunity
In 2001, I submitted an application for University High School to be one of the pilot schools for an ETP grant. The district superintendent and the building principal gave their approval and the Spokane Radio Amateur Club agreed to sponsor the program at our school and provide the materials for the “library.” We were fortunate enough to be chosen to participate and, in addition, I was chosen to be one of five educators from across the country to go to Hartford, Connecticut for several days to help develop the national curriculum for the program.
Over the summer of 2002, University High School moved into a new building, which allowed me the opportunity to set up an antenna farm on top of the new theater in preparation for starting the program that fall. The ETP grant provided us with a Hustler 5-BTV HF antenna, a combination 6 meter, 2 meter and 70 cm beam, a rotator and controller, a Yaesu FT-847 transceiver, coaxial cable and connectors. I added a three element 20/15/10 meter beam and 75 and 40 meter dipoles. The students thought it was really cool that rock star Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, contributed to “our” station.
In September of 2002 we began a new student class called the Amateur Radio License Class. The first class had 28 students, most of whom had no clue what Amateur Radio was. They soon found out that this was a class dedicated to helping them earn an Amateur Radio license. The principal, assistant principal and I took that first class up on the roof to see the antenna farm. The district administration was not comfortable with that, so they were the only class to have that opportunity.
The class counted as an elective and students could repeat the class to upgrade their license. The class would be offered once each year so they could make their way to Amateur Extra class if they started in their sophomore year and successfully completed the preparation and testing each year. Many freshmen chose to take this class. Two of them secured their Extra class licenses by their junior year and became teacher assistants in their senior year.
Many local hams helped in a variety of ways in supporting this class. Gary Webbenhurst, AB7NI, became a mentor for the program in the early years and contributed much in the way of equipment, materials and time spent actually working with the students. Several other hams have contributed equipment and time to this program at University High School. Two Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, Betsy Ashleman, N7WRQ, and Mary Qualtieri, AA7RT, have brought testing teams into the school during the school day to give the exams.
We had a daily routine that required the students study a segment of the test questions the night before. At the beginning of class we would take a quiz on those questions followed by a lesson and discussion. Then they took the quiz again. If the segment was the last of that section, we took a section quiz. When we had covered about 60% of the test questions, they would follow the daily quizzes with a complete practice test each day. All of this was recorded in charts the students maintained and submitted each week for my review.
This regimen was less than exciting and required some creative efforts to keep it from being too tedious. When Morse code was still a requirement for licensing, we would do Morse code scavenger hunts. They would receive clues written in Morse code that would send them to the next station and so on through eight or nine stations. Successful completion earned a treat (choice of fruit or candy bar). We also made a regular practice that whenever one or more of the students passed the exam we would celebrate the next day with cake. My wife and I baked the cakes and decorated them with congratulatory comments spelled out in Morse code.
Since the objective of the class was to take and pass the license exam, they would automatically earn an A for the class if they passed the exam. We have an Amateur Radio club that is sanctioned by our Associated Student Body and the club paid the testing fee for each student once. If the student didn’t pass, the next time they tested the fee was their responsibility. The club money came mostly from donations from the Spokane hamfest that we host at the school.
A Look Back
As I write this, I am newly retired from the classroom and so I can summarize the results of the 8 years I have been in this program. We have had 93 students earn a total of 112 licenses, including four Amateur Extra class licenses. Approximately 85% of the students taking the class passed the exams. Two students earned Foundation for Amateur Radio (FAR) scholarships. We have hosted the Spokane hamfest for many years and for the last 2 years we have been one of the sponsoring clubs. With the permission of Tom Faulkner, W7TRF, a trustee of a local repeater, we have operated an informal 2 meter net, the University High School net. We have our own EchoLink node that students have used to talk all over the world, with two students getting QSL cards from Antarctica.
Four years ago, I had a student teacher, Jared Bock, who studied with the students and earned his Technician class license. His call sign is KE7FLD. He was hired to take over the media production program in anticipation of my retirement. He will be handling the Amateur Radio program at University High School in the coming years.
I want to thank the American Radio Relay League and all those who supported the development of this program. I believe that it has made a significant contribution to the future of Amateur Radio.
Steve Lalonde, WA7WKX, an ARRL member, was first licensed as WN7QLF in 1970. He upgraded to General class and his current call sign in 1973 and then to Advanced class in 1988. Steve taught from 1972 to 1975 in Glenwood, Washington and then left teaching for 9 years working as a mechanic, machinist and franchise agent for Automotive Engineering, Inc for 5 years and as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America for 4 years. He returned to teaching at University High School in Spokane, Washington in 1984 and taught there until June of 2010. He works now as president of Central Valley Education Association.
Steve and Audrey celebrated their 40th anniversary in September of 2010. They have two sons, Brian, KB7IQR, and Barry. Steve can be reached at 304 N Adams Rd, Spokane, WA 99216.