LONGMONT -- Rebecca Kissinger and Anna Sanger are spending most of their June mornings building rockets in an engineering classroom at Skyline High School.
On Monday, they will find out how far their rocket can fly as a camera inside it records a video of the ground it is covering.
"We're trying to get distance, not height," said Kissinger, a junior in the school's Science, Technology, Engineering, Math program. The girls are among dozens of students taking a class in this summer's STEM Academy program.
"I love doing extra classes in the summer," said Kissinger, who wants a career in biomedical engineering. And because she's taking Advanced Placement physics during the school year, the summer class helps her earn a credit and free up some time, she said.
On Thursday, two officials from the U.S. Department of Education's office of communications and outreach visited the academy to see how the St. Vrain Valley School District is spending its federal Investing in Innovation grant.
The $3.6 million grant, which the district received in August 2010, was aimed at helping schools develop "promising ideas" for improving education.
Diana Huffman of the U.S. Department of Education said after touring Skyline that she loved how the STEM Academy reaches out to students on many levels, with a variety of skills.
"People are encouraged to use their strengths," Huffman said.
In addition to the rocketry class, Huffman and Helen Littlejohn saw students in the creative engineering class working on their trebuchets on the southside courtyard.
Littlejohn enjoyed seeing "kids excited to be in school in the summer," she said.
"When they're having fun, they're learning," she said.
Sophomore Naomi Barron, who plans to be an engineer, took the class this summer to get a credit out of the way, she said. Figuring out the math and science behind the trebuchet is the most challenging part of the project, she said.
Huffman and Littlejohn also met students in the mobile application development team. There, according to principal Patty Quiñones, students are developing applications for mobile devices for companies and organizations, including the Colorado Department of Education.
The companies purchase the products, bringing in revenue for the STEM program and giving the students work experience and projects for their portfolios, she said.
That school-industry connection also impressed the Department of Education representatives, they said.
Such a connection shows students what is required in their chosen industries and what steps they need to take to get there, Huffman said.
"It's really amazing for us to see the impact the (grant money) is having on a school," Littlejohn said.