Students test rockets’ flight in an innovative pre-engineering program at Bishop Shanahan High School, Downingtown.

By George Gregory
Special to the CS&T

DOWNINGTOWN – A bottle rocket shoot-off may not be the typical way that Catholic high school students spend a school day, but on Tuesday, May 25, at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, such a competition took center stage on the grounds surrounding the school.

This is the first academic year that Bishop Shanahan has offered a pre-engineering elective class, and it is off to a promising start, attracting two full classes of students. Archdiocesan high schools are continually striving to enrich their curricula, and Bishop Shanahan, the only archdiocesan high school in Chester County, is no exception. {{more}}

“We are very excited about offering this pre-engineering elective for the first time this year, and this competition is the culmination of the course,” said Sister Maureen Lawrence, I.H.M., principal of Bishop Shanahan. “We’re very proud of the students’ enthusiasm.”

The two pre-engineering classes were broken into 11 teams for the competition. Junior and senior students designed their own rockets and launchers. Scores were based on horizontal accuracy and horizontal and vertical distance achieved. The rockets were propelled by a fixed maximum air pressure without using explosives.

“The project involved the problem solving that we learned in class, in addition to teamwork skills,” said Mark McAneney. He and teammates Joseph Brady, Kyle Hearty and Sean Solley attained the best score for vertical launch.

“It was a microcosm of the engineering design process because the students were given the objectives and guidelines to be met, and through trial and error, we had to come up with the finished product,” Brady added.

The team that earned the highest point total for accuracy and distance included Robert Elridge, Ryan Haney, Connor Henry, Kieran Hess and David Lee.

“It was so rewarding to witness the results of all the effort that each member of the groups invested,” Lee said. “This first year of pre-engineering class was a huge success. Each of us is already imagining its evolution and what it will mean to the students here in the years to come.”

For another participant, Andrew Caulfield, the competition seemed the culmination of what was learned through coursework. “It was nice to be able to compare your work to others, and each rocket had its own unique properties and characteristics,” he said.

“Safety was of the utmost importance,” Caulfield added. “All the participants wore goggles and stayed in a safe area remotely located, so that the rockets could be released in safety.”

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.