Priest River teacher still dreaming of space

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  • (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) Standing in front of the same window from which he watched with childhood exuberance through his first telescope, Chris Naccarato reflects on the inspiration established in his 4-year old imagination in Apollo’s first successful mission to land a man on the moon 50 years ago.

  • 1

    (Photo courtesy NASA and DR. TOM JONES) Astronaut Dr. Tom Jones displays a good luck letter faxed to him aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia while in orbit from the fifth-grade classroom in Priest River. With each student signing, their names are recorded as having flown in space, demonstrating the influence and love so many American scientists and space explorers share from the inspiration instilled in them by the students of this small American town.

  • 2

    (Photos courtesy, NASA and DR. STEVE SWANSON) Dr. Steve Swanson, astronaut in residence at Boise State, shared this photo of the NACA classroom logo. It was an appreciated surprise to the class that their pride and joy has flown in orbit above the earth.

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    (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) Intensely focused and devoted to his 5th grade students, nationally recognized Chris Naccarato explains how his core belief that all the students should be involved in the participation of a science achievement. “Every student has a job that mimics the same jobs used by NASA on any space mission.”

  • (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) Standing in front of the same window from which he watched with childhood exuberance through his first telescope, Chris Naccarato reflects on the inspiration established in his 4-year old imagination in Apollo’s first successful mission to land a man on the moon 50 years ago.

  • 1

    (Photo courtesy NASA and DR. TOM JONES) Astronaut Dr. Tom Jones displays a good luck letter faxed to him aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia while in orbit from the fifth-grade classroom in Priest River. With each student signing, their names are recorded as having flown in space, demonstrating the influence and love so many American scientists and space explorers share from the inspiration instilled in them by the students of this small American town.

  • 2

    (Photos courtesy, NASA and DR. STEVE SWANSON) Dr. Steve Swanson, astronaut in residence at Boise State, shared this photo of the NACA classroom logo. It was an appreciated surprise to the class that their pride and joy has flown in orbit above the earth.

  • 3

    (Photo by DWAYNE PARSONS) Intensely focused and devoted to his 5th grade students, nationally recognized Chris Naccarato explains how his core belief that all the students should be involved in the participation of a science achievement. “Every student has a job that mimics the same jobs used by NASA on any space mission.”

When NASA launched it’s bold risk in 1969 to put the first man on the moon, the Apollo Mission inspired a generation of young Americans to dream big and wonder more about space, space travel and the stars.

They were dubbed the Apollo Children.

The young imaginations of these children were so captured by the infinite reaches of outer space and man’s new-found ability to get there that many grew up to become astronauts, space technicians, rocket engineers, scientists or educators.

Priest River Elementary School Teacher, Chris Naccarato is a shining example of an Apollo Child as he continues to live out and share his dream of space and space travel through his profession as an educator.

With a team of 5th graders, Naccarato and his students designed a now nationally recognized logo that has actually flown in space aboard the International Space Station thanks to Astronaut, Dr. Steve Swanson.

NACA (National Astronauts in Classroom Association) founded by Naccarato from the Priest River Elementary School, has gathered considerable attention from the NASA, its astronauts and a large following of space-oriented scientists and technicians throughout America and even Europe.

“I’d rather try and fail than not try at all,” Naccarato said, explaining his phenomenal success.

He shrugged his shoulders and asked me, “what if NASA had not tried to land a mission on the moon? We would never have been there. They tried, they failed, some even died in trying; but ultimately, the whole team of engineers and scientists and the brave astronauts actually did what at first seemed impossible.”

That’s a characteristic quite often exhibited by many young people commonly recognized as The Children of Apollo.

“It’s all about character building and teamwork is incredibly important to the entire educational process.”

Naccarato explained that in the building of rockets, which they launch near the Priest River Airport every year, all his 5th grade students participate, being assigned to job responsibilities that mimic the same jobs performed by NASA during an actual mission launch.

Such an approach not only builds the confidence of his students, he said, but has certainly attracted national attention to his educational classroom program.

Coupled with the development of a classroom logo: NACA has to date enjoyed 45 astronaut appearances at the Priest Lake Elementary school.

Of course the entire the community and all of North Idaho at large benefits from this exceptional attention.

How did it all come about?

How did Naccarato get a response in the first place and then build a legacy of NASA involvement through yearly grade school projects?

According to Naccarato, his mother, Mary Lee, describes his success by saying something like, “You could tell him ‘no’ but once Chris gets an idea, he stays on it until it gets it done!”

Interestingly, it’s a common trait shared among many of the Apollo Children affected by their early absorption in following the first landing of men on the moon, glued as they were to their parent’s television sets.

We’ll never know how many were so positively affected, but we certainly see evidence in numerous places as technology and significant accomplishment continue to advance in the modern world.

Young minds, untainted by conclusions of doubt and naysaying, open their imaginations to accept all possibility. With vision in hand, they set out get it done.

Chris Naccarato is a shining example of these 2 attributes.

Listening to him and observing his way, this writer believes that one of the other characteristics that may explain Naccarato’s incredible accomplishment is the way in which he involves every student, by assignment, to take part in a position of responsibility as a team player in reaching out toward a common goal.

“When I think about all of the astronauts and their appearances as a part of our NACA Aerospace Program, the enormity of so many stellar individuals visiting our classroom is almost unbelievable,” he said.

Naccarato is openly in awe and expresses his appreciation for the vast amount of support that he and his students have received from the many local sponsors who have so generously donated money and services to support the NACA Aerospace Program at the elementary school.

Numerous parents and local citizens have selflessly contributed time, hard work, and monetary support to NACA’s great benefit.

The continued support and assistance from fellow teachers and school administrators has also played a tremendous role in the wondrous outcome of this lasting achievement.

Naccarato is quick to add his utmost love and respect for “my biggest supporters…my educator parents. My Dad and my Mom instilled in me the teaching skills and principles that have been a major factor in helping me create and make our NACA Aerospace Program a successful way to educate and inspire all these children.”

Imagination, stirred in the young mind of Chris Naccarato fifty years ago awakened a vision that has and continues to affect numerous children who become adults and consequently explore the far reaches of human potential.

It all stems from the early development of a solid inner belief that anything is possible and that teams can accomplish what individuals cannot.

“You just have to stay with it until you find the way to do it,” Naccarato said, echoing the wisdom of his mother.

Fortitude and persistence are virtues to be taught and they are clearly exhibited in the person of Chris Naccarato, who has gone so far as to create jerseys and hats bearing the NACA logo as evidence of participation.

“The kids,” he said, “are even involved in doing the artwork. No one is excluded from being on the team.”

They all partake in the process of design and accomplishment.

They have their clipboards and they’re learning the science of how to get something really big done well.

Naccarato cited more than 100 names of citizens and businesses who have contributed to the growth and influence of NACA through Priest River Elementary.

They enjoy regular appearances of Astronauts at Priest River Elementary and conduct classroom science projects each year, thanks in great part to the donations and support of these important sponsors.

If you are so inclined, you can contact Chris Naccarato through the administration office at Priest River Elementary.

Dwayne Parsons can be reached for comment and suggestions by email at dwaynedailybee@gmail.com.

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