Tuesday afternoon’s Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremony, which recognized 80 middle school students from the area of the Keys hardest hit last fall by Hurricane Irma, was special for several reasons.
First, the inducted students – who attend Sugarloaf School and Marathon Middle High School – are all veterans of the storm and the rebuilding effort, which is now in its fifth month. The ceremony was held in the auditorium of the Marathon school, which was surrounded by water at the height of Hurricane Irma.
Second, the Marathon event marked the first time that an FPF induction featured a member of the community as the scientific keynote speaker. The speaker was Chip Kasper, who is Marine Program Forecaster at the Key West National Weather Service office. Chip gave a terrific talk about how he was inspired to pursue meteorology as a career by his experience in a hurricane in Texas while he was in middle school. He also talked about how important high school preparation is for being successful as a college student majoring in meteorology. Chip graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology in 1998.
Third, nearly all the students inducted on Tuesday will be attending Marathon Middle High School, which may be the state’s leading traditional district school for steering students into physics courses. This fall, the school had 86 students enrolled in physics class (in all grades 9-12). When this is compared to the number of 12th graders in the school, 89, this gives an astounding physics enrollment rate of 97 physics enrollments per 100 12th graders. The Florida statewide rate is 20, so Marathon enrolls students in high school physics at a rate five times higher than the state as a whole.
The primary reason for the physics success at Marathon is physics teacher Chris Hayes, who joined the Marathon FPF inductees at Tuesday’s ceremony. Before coming to the Keys a few years ago, Chris taught in Texas, where nearly all students took physics under the state’s “4×4 graduation plan” until it was repealed in 2013. Thus, Chris is comfortable teaching physics to a very deep student population – and is comfortable inviting all of Marathon’s students to take physics. Of the 86 students taking physics at Marathon, 22 are taking AP Physics 1. The remaining 64 are enrolled in Honors Physics.
The Marathon administration is also an important part of the school’s physics success. Every rising 11th grader is automatically enrolled in physics. Students and parents can opt out of physics, but few do.