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Indy Education: Ely middle schoolers research on double stars gets published

Plus: A new guide informs voters about candidates seeking to serve on K-12 education boards across the state.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Education newsletter. I’m Rocio Hernandez, The Nevada Independent’s K-12 education reporter. 

This newsletter provides a recap of the latest education stories and highlights interesting educators, students, programs and other events and resources throughout the state. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter and receive it each week via email.

I want to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions on what I should be covering to [email protected]

News briefs

Opportunity 180 CEO Jana Wilcox Lavin speaks at an event on March 20, 2024. (Opportunity 180/Courtesy)

​​🗳️Nonprofit releases school board elections voter guide  — A new guide from Opportunity 180, a K-12 education advocacy organization, is giving voters insight into the candidates vying to serve on the State Board of Education and school boards in Clark and Washoe counties. The Q&A asks the candidates about their vision for the systems they are seeking to serve and how they would evaluate a superintendent and hold them accountable, as both school districts are in the process of hiring a new superintendent.  

It also asks Clark County School Board candidates for their thoughts on the addition of nonvoting trustees who were appointed to the board last year. Earlier this year, the board passed a policy that stripped nonvoting trustees of some of their powers. 

CEO Jana Wilcox Lavin said the voter guide is meant to bring attention to the down-ballot races that are crucial to Nevada’s K-12 education systems. 

“While many people think it's the Legislature that makes all the primary education decisions, really, the education boards at the state and the district level have a lot of say in policies that impact the day-to-day experience of students, and the day-to-day impact for students,” she said. 

Wilcox Lavin said Opportunity 180 will put out a general election voter guide, as well as convene a student-led forum with candidates, later this year. 

🍎 Applications open for state charter school board The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) is accepting applications from interested individuals, including high school students, for two seats on the State Public Charter School Authority board. 

State Public Charter School Authority-sponsored schools serve more than 50,000 students, representing 11 percent of Nevada’s student population.

The two appointments will be made by the State Board of Education. NDE said in a statement that current board members — Chair Tonia Holmes-Sutton and Vice Chair Cindi Rivera — are welcome to reapply, but aren’t guaranteed reappointment. Those selected will serve a three-year term on the board that begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2027. 

Applications can be submitted online before 5 p.m. next Tuesday, May 28. 

School Spotlight

Former White Pine Middle School students Eva Sorensen, left, and Becca Murphree use a telescope at the Great Basin Observatory during a school field trip to the national park on June 1, 2022. (Great Basin National Park Foundation/Courtesy)

Middle schoolers’ bright ideas on stars published in academic journal

White Pine Middle School students don’t just reach for the stars — they observe them and record their findings in research papers.  

Their new paper, in collaboration with two high schools from Cedar City, Utah, and a professor and graduate students from Southern Utah University, was featured in the latest edition of the Journal of Double Star Observations, a peer-reviewed scientific journal focused on double stars — pairs of stars that appear close to each other as viewed from Earth, especially with the aid of optical telescopes.

The students received guidance and edits from their teacher, Kaelyn Porter, and Southern Utah University physics professor Cameron Pace. Students conducted research to determine if the stars are gravitationally bound or merely appeared to be orbiting each other.

“The amazing thing is the kids do all the writing,” Porter said. “The only thing we do is kind of guide them on how an academic paper was written.” 

Porter began teaching a semester-long astronomy class for middle schoolers focused on researching double stars during the 2021-22 school year as part of the Great Basin Observatory’s Double Star Research Program. The observatory is located at Great Basin National Park, which is about 55 miles from Ely and is known for its dark skies that are ideal for stargazing.

Last school year, Porter’s students were the first middle schoolers to complete the research program that previously included only high school students.  

“My goal is to help kids feel they can do things they didn't think they could do,” Porter said. 

Seventh grader Catie Murphree, 12, and eighth grader Krosby Cox, 14, were among the students that worked on the latest paper. Catie’s older siblings were part of Porter's first class that had its research published. 

“It's really a lot of fun to learn about teamwork and talk to the professors from big colleges,” said Catie, who aspires to be a writer. ”I actually think it's really fun to write professionally. Like, I actually have my name on a published paper now.” 

Krosby, who aspires to be a doctor, said she joined the class because she thinks the experience working with university-level researchers will look good on college applications. 

The students said the research hasn’t been without its challenges. They’ve had issues with measurements and have had to start all over again, and faced difficulties in learning how to work as a team. 

But they said there were also lots of bright spots, including their field trips to the observatory. 

“We learned a lot about how bugs and birds and animals use the stars and basically celestial bodies to navigate,” Krosby said. 

Porter said her students are working on completing a fourth and fifth paper by the end of the school year. 

Have a student or staffer who we should feature in the next edition of School Spotlight? Share your nominations with me at [email protected].

Reading Assignments

Indy Explains: What’s happening with universal free meals for Nevada students?

Nevada schools are sounding the alarm as they prepare for the end of a universal free school meals program that was available for students throughout the pandemic. 

Survey: no clear consensus on next Washoe schools leader

Less than a week before the Washoe County School Board decides who will be next to lead the state’s second-largest school district, results from a survey show community members are divided on the five finalists. 

New academy preps students for municipal, wildland firefighting careers

A first-of-its-kind program in Washoe County is introducing students to the basics of municipal and wildland firefighting and gives them the foundation to apply directly for jobs or study fire science in college. (This story was featured in last week’s edition of the Indy Environment newsletter; subscribe here.)

Extra Credit

Where is Clark County School District Trustee Katie Williams?

Questions are swirling around whether Clark County School Board Trustee Katie Williams is living in Nevada full-time, KLAS-TV reported. 


🍎 Washoe County School Board meeting — Tuesday, May 14, 2 p.m.    

The agenda includes a possible vote on the board’s pick for the district’s next superintendent. 

🍎 Legislature’s Joint Interim Standing Committee on Education — Wednesday, May 15, 9 a.m.     

The agenda includes presentations on the state’s Acing Accountability initiative, and graduation and achievement rate trends. 

🥦 Northern Nevada Giant Student Farmers Market — Wednesday, May 15, 10 a.m. - noon   

Green Our Planet is hosting its second annual student farmers market in Northern Nevada at Fuji Park, located at 601 Old Creek Road in Carson City. The market will feature about 10 local schools. 

Featured social media post

Before they have even graduated, these Las Vegas students have landed jobs within MGM Resorts International’s culinary department. Way to go!


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