New math and rocketry teacher Dan Perahya was hired with a mandate to grow the Westridge rocketry program. After approximately five years of increased student interest and some great success in the Team America Rocketry Competition (TARC) program, the school wants to create opportunities for students to go deeper in the actual science of rocket science, and Perahya is ready to take students there.

A trained particle physicist who most recently led the rocketry program at High Tech Los Angeles high school, Perahya has a multi-year vision for evolving the program but already has shifted the focus of this year’s Upper School rocketry class from competition to experimental rocketry.

“Competitions are great, but they are about optimizing what exists, like buying motors and rocket bodies and modifying them, and working with a set of very specific parameters,” said Perahya. “By stepping outside of that system, our class will be doing real rocket science, including aspects of chemistry, electrical engineering, and physics. They’ll design and build motors and bodies from scratch. I have a student who wants to explore making biofuel, someone who is interested in making multistage rockets—and our new framework will provide the room for this type of experimentation.”

Perahya originally thought he would have a group of students competing in TARC again this year and another taking the more experimental path. But when he gave students the option, all decided to take on the new approach. And he thinks options for experimentation will expand as the class grows—he is hoping to move from one class period per rotation to two next year, and ultimately make it a full-credit elective (currently it falls under Westridge’s H-Block pass/fail electives). He and Robotics Teacher Autumn Rogers are talking about collaborations between their classes down the road, such as having robotics students build and program a rocket flight simulator.

"The addition of Dan P has been fantastic not just for what he brings in terms of rocketry knowledge and teaching experience, but also the passion he has for expanding the scope of the entire Computer Science and Engineering department," said Dan Calmeyer, chair of the Computer Science & Engineering department. "Dan has already been integrally involved in discussions about how we can deliver to our students a deeper, broader STEM curriculum than we currently offer."

Currently, all Westridge students are introduced to rocketry in 5th grade, with a culminating project of building and launching water-propelled rockets. Middle Schoolers have the option to take a rocketry elective.

Click here to view a fun video Perahya put together for his first day of class. It is rocket science after all!