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Flashy science

Literally.  We do lots of experiments in grades 6-8 science. Girls love explosions as much as boys, it seems.  Here are two experiments with flashes.

As an 8-year-old boy, Lou Ellen and Vince’s son, David, now an LCA Board member, bought a huge electrical capacitor with money he’s saved.  He left it in our care.  Now that’s an opportunity to release some energy!  Vince involved the students in designing an experiment to charge the capacitor to 30 VDC and discharge it through a short length of 30-gauge copper wire.  We calculated the energy needed to melt that mass of wire, and we calculated the wire gauge of low-resistance connectors that ensured that the energy got deposited mostly in the thin wire.  We used our school’s venerable 1000 frames-per-second camera to capture  the event.

Vince brought the students into balancing chemical reactions and then into the interesting energetic reactions of alkali metals with water.  He obtained 20 grams of pure sodium metal.  We cut, cleaned, and weighed small samples, on the order of tens of mg.  We put them into a beaker with water at a set temperature and timed how long they took to fizz their way away, becoming lye (NaOH) and hydrogen gas.  We examined the hypothesis that there was a simple relation between duration and mass.  The next step was to see how much faster the reaction was with warm water.  Well, at 50 degrees Celsius, it was explosive.  Students in a nearby classroom jumped up to see the repetition!  We then did the experiment outdoors for all to see:

We do some science without physical flashes, rather, with flashes of insight.  Two students in science 6-8 found a preserved cow’s eye in our science storeroom.  They asked our Head of School and teacher of science 1-2 and 3-5, Dr. Lou Ellen Kay, if they could dissect it.  She agreed to lead the dissection, provided that the students learn a great deal about the eye’s structure and function (much the same in the cow as in us humans).

On May 11, 2021, Lou Ellen convened the group. She gave a fascinating introductory review of the eye’s structure and function, based on her academic career, drawing also on an anatomy book’s illustrations. She dissected apart the fat and connective tissue, while pointing out the optic nerve and the positioning muscles.  Students were able to heft the and feel its substantive firmness (though a plastic film barrier).  She dissected out the cornea (looks like big contact lens), releasing the aqueous humour behind, and showing the iris and the vitreous humour.  Cutting fully around, she showed the lens, vitreous body, retina, optic nerve, and the outermost stiffening, the sclera.  Students put on gloves and handled the various parts.  Lou Ellen gave a recap of what we all learned.

In-person learning works best!

We readily met CDC guidelines essentially right from the start of the 2020-21 academic year.  We are fortunate that we have nearly 200 square feet per student; we met the 25% occupancy rule readily.  We took extensive precautions.  We took every student and teacher’s temperature on entry into the building. Everyone work masks except when actually eating.  Everyone kept social distance.  Each student had his or her own supplies. We sanitized surfaces… finally getting the welcome guidance later that bleach on nonmetallic surfaces was not desirable.  We rearranged our class schedules to minimize the times that students passed each other in the hallways.

From mid-September onward we were open for in-person learning.  Students loved being here.  A few students had to quarantine briefly when they traveled or had dubious symptoms (no COVID!).  A few families chose to have their children in distance education that we provided with added technology.  By degrees, they rejoined us in person, with all students in person for the last three months.

Here are some good times for learning, and playing:

Head of School Dr. Lou Ellen Kay teaches about the eye, preliminary to the students dissecting (with care!) a preserved cow’s eye.

Chinese teacher Yulin Zhang engages 1st- and 2nd-graders


Young students have vigorous free play on the climbing dome on their break.

Students in grades 6-8 science finish vaporizing a thin copper wire with an electrical discharge.


Young students lead the outdoor parade for Chinese New Year, with teacher Yulin Zhang leading the way.

OK, this is out of school, at our picnic on May 26th; we kept up using masks, in view of our young students not being vaccinated.


Our picnic May 2021

We closed out the year on May 26th with a picnic for all the students, their families, and teachers at the enjoyable public park in Mesilla on Calle Santiago.  We abided by the earlier pandemic precautions, since none of the students had been vaccinated.  That didn’t dampen the fun.  At the end we celebrated all the summer birthdays and teacher Elizabeth Brasher handed out ribbons for the participants in the field day events of the day before.

Economics 1 & 2

Students of Kelly Lin, our teacher for grades 1 & 2 (and all math) created their economics projects.  They became producers by creating a product and setting up shop. On Friday, they invited Katie Bushma’s kindergarten class over to shop at their stores.

Earth Day 2021

Our students of the Las Cruces Academy honored Earth Day this 22nd of April, 2021.  They had learned about many environmental issues over two weeks, from plastic pollution to climate change to deforestation.  Each of the 23 students in grades 3 through 8 chose a topic, then designed and drew a poster.  Lining the sidewalk by the Mesilla Town Hall, they invited passing motorists with waves and greetings to see what kinds of care that the students hope we will all offer to the Earth.  Posters will rotate to viewing in the Town Hall.


Our public newsletter, 25 April 2021

The Las Cruces Academy public newsletter of 25 April 2021

Welcome to the news of our thriving students and teachers! We’ve been really busy and productive; we relate a lot of news here.

First – students are here in person and are COVID-safe! We are both very lucky and very actively taking precautions during this pandemic. Our students have been learning in person since last September, with no COVID-19 cases at the school. We have a big building with much space per student for social distancing. Everyone who was exposed or might have been has self-quarantined, and that’s only a few of us. We provided distance learning to quarantined students, with technology up to the task without unduly burdening the teachers and the in-person students. Our teachers have been vaccinated, with one having recovered from COVID over a break. We check everyone’s temperature on arrival. We circulate the air in the school. We sanitize surfaces that need it. Everyone wears masks all day other than while eating. Everyone practices social distancing. Fortunately, the newest CDC guidelines allows ball-playing, which is a lively, happy time.

For all kinds of learning, students’ selective use of our 15 Chromebook laptops, newly purchased for this school year on a generous grant, has been a boon for them. From essay-writing in English class to computer programming to, on occasion, some distance learning for several families, our technology supports learning effectively. Of course, our students do very much off the computers – reading actual books, doing hands-on experiments, having vigorous class discussions, and more.

Our students are great readers. It shows in the success of our annual book fair. This year, again, we topped our sales marks. We always have to ask Scholastic Book Fairs to send more advanced books. The fair this year runs from April 14th through the 27th.

Other happy times included Valentine’s Day, with older students creating games and fun and snacks for the younger students, and Chinese New Year, our annual celebration of our great language program.

We’ve attained our record enrollment, 45 students. Kindergarten, early kindergarten, and grades 1 & 2 are at our enrollment limits. Our 7 middle-schoolers in grade 6-8 comprise our biggest such group ever. We were concerned that enrollment might drop and squeeze our budget, and some families did choose to sit out the pandemic, but even more flocked to us.

Our academic innovations over the years are going strong. The after-school clubs in engineering (Legos now) and theater meet every other week by Zoom. Teacher Elizabeth Brasher recenty challenged students to use Legos to make animals and scenes, or desserts – that’s a mix. In her theater club, students played a physical acting game called “A Million Ways to… In the kindergarten – early kindergarten class, students wrote poetry in several forms, guided by teacher Katie Bushma, who joined us in January. We’re engaged academically outside the school, too. Students in grades 3-8 answered the call by NMSU Biology Professor Graciela Unguez to create questions on neurobiology for her university students. Teacher and Board Chair Vince Gutschick started a late-Thursday group of five students to program in the Python language to analyze big data sets of weather records for patterns, the current focus being on the distribution of freezing weather events.

We anticipate that our students will shine once again on the Iowa Assessments in the week of April 26-30. This is the only standardized testing we do. We do not teach to any rigid curriculum nor do we teach to any tests, but last time, in 2019, the LCA came out in the top 1% nationally.

Our outreach flows on. Twenty-three students made Earth Day a challenge to think for people driving by the Mesilla Town Hall. They created posters on environmental issues and held them for all to see. They can be viewed online at https://youtu.be/a2wUmPkU4cw (here’s a live link).

Vince Gutschick continues his science-nugget podcasts on our local NPR station. You can find and listen to over 100 at krwg.org/programs/science-digest. He also created a hyperlinked semi-popular book about the habitability of planets, a hot topic with a lot of poor information needing redress. It’s freely available at lcaoutreach.org/habitability-of-planets-2, with a companion site lcaoutreach.org/travel that distills 34 years of travel to 41 countries.

LCA families, Board members, and friends of the school have been generous with funds and goods. Our Annual Fund broke through its goal of $20,000. That’s very important for our biggest initiatives, the first and most immediate one being attaining accreditation. While accreditation is not necessary for a primary / middle school, it can help draw in even more good students. Moreover, the accreditation process with the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest is so rigorous and thorough that we are verifying in great deal that we’re doing things right. Specifically to help us meet the accreditation standards, our Board of Trustees met on April 18th to cover around 30 individual topics in finances, teaching, safety, Board structure, and more, all being codified in our policies handbook (100+ pages and growing).

With very mixed feelings, we will send off our long-time math teacher, Kelly Lin, at the end of this academic year. Her husband, Chase, has finished medical school and is taking an internship out of state. They’re already making the long preparations for the move. We’re sure that they will both thrive in their new location. We’re posting the opening for her job, teaching grades 1 & 2 and math 1-8, in a number of venues – our website, Facebook, and Craigslist. If you know of a candidate, we’ll be very pleased to hear from you. We have a promising candidate, while also pursuing due diligence to get a top teacher once again.