Rocket Boys the musical

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From Students

Dear Mr. Hickam,

My name is Gwyn Curry. I have just returned from NYLT (National Youth Leadership Training Course 2010)with the Boy Scouts of America. I just wanted to say thank you so much for writing a letter to us. Your story has helped me believe in myself of pursuing my dream to become a doctor, specifically a heart surgeon. I used to believe that I would be great and sail through middle school, high school, and college without any trouble. When i got in to 7th grade that dream began to fade and I nearly lost all of that dream until I watched October Sky. I realized that if i really wanted that career enough, like you with aerospace and technology, then i was going to have to study a lot harder. Lucky for me this information came to me just before my freshman year of high school!

I just wanted to thank you for that and following your dreams, even if it meant arguing with your dad and having so many mistakes.

Best Wishes,

Astronaut Noufi wrote:

Dear Mr. Hickam,

In 2007, we were required to watch October Sky in order to solve homework for intercultural class. I never thought that a movie would change my whole life. Sorry, it wasn't only a movie. For me, October Sky was a turning point in my life. Your October Sky just restated my goals, re-set my thoughts, created new believes, and explored new visions. Although it made me feel depressed to realize how gravity is holding me strongly, I tried to the positive side. Your October Sky taught me to never give the gravity a chance to control my goals.

Last May, I started a club at my university that promote the interest in space and space explorations. It was the first step towards my goals. I believe that one day I will help in the field of space and belong to one of these great space organizations. I dedicated the success of the first step and the coming steps for you, Homer Hickam. I also want to thank you for inspire me and giving my life a meaning by having great goals and dreams.

Thank you and god bless you.

Homer Hickam replies:

Dear Ms. Nouf Abdulaziz Al-Jalaud:

It is wonderful that my story helped you to move forward in your life. You are the hope of the future, not only of Saudi Arabia, but for the entire world. It is for the young, definitely including young women, to change the course of history toward peace and the movement into space for all. I think you are a true rocket girl and I am very proud of you. Please let me know how you are doing from time to time and if I can help you and your fellow students in any way.

Best wishes and keep aiming high.

Hello Mr. Hickam,

My name is Samuel , and I live in new york city.Your life in Coalwood has inspired me to participate in the space race. I would like to talk to you about de laval nozzles and certain rocket propellants for mock rockets.I have some theories myself for new rockets.It would be my honor to talk to a man as brilliant as the legendary Dr. Werhner von braun…I may be twelve, but I would still like to talk to someone who really understands the elegance of rockets, to teach me more about them. From a boy to a genius, thank you.

“…you inspierd me and i hope you can keep on inspiring kids my age because of u i drop out of a gang thank you homer”

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I'm a 19 girl and a student at Eastern Kentucky University, and my major is photography. I'm writing you to say thank you. After watching October Sky this past weekend I have become inspired to become a better student and to set a goal in my life. This past weekend I sat down and studied for a math test for over 5 hours. The first time I've ever done that. You see somewhere along the line of growing up I convinced myself that I was stupid in math. That I couldn't learn the subject no matter what and I gave up. But I gave it a shot this weekend and I prayed for strength and determination. Today when I got my math test back I got an A. An A Mr. Hickam! In college math, my greatest obstacle. Now I feel as if this great barrier stopping from achieving anything is gone. There is nothing that I can't do. So thank you Mr. Hickam.

I related so well to your story. I come from a small rural community in eastern Kentucky dubbed as “mud creek”. A place that if a person is not careful can be bogged down my life and responsibilities that they can never get out. You see until a year and a half ago that place was my whole life. I had never been anywhere hardly before and knew nothing much about the outside world. I face a lot of adversity coming away to college. I know it's only 150 miles away, but my whole family is 150 miles away and I didn't know any one in the area. It's kind of an unspoken tradition that everyone grows up, gets married and lives just down the road. I'm not like that, ever since I was small the only thing I've wanted to do is be successful. To leave Kentucky and see the world and live my life.

I'm at school now and I'm studying hard. I know that someday whatever my goal is I know that I'm going to be successful. So I thank you Mr. Hickam for telling us your wonderful story. You have reached so many and many yet to come.

Homer, I just want to say thank you…October Sky…went to my heart to Inspire me. I have wrote you before. You always seem to touch me. Mr. Hickam I have a question that swells inside of me. But First, You are my hero. I know you think “I get Told That Every Day” well sir i mean it. You and the Rocket Boys have taught me if you wanna do something try for it. Mr. Hickam I'm only 14 but life seems demanding. I just like you come from a small town. Also I wanna work for NASA. These have been my dreams. i wanna tell you Mr. Hickam Because of you also because of the Rocket Boys I have a dream. I remember when i Got my Telescope and i told my dad i will be up there some day. People have never really believed in me. But you and your story have. Please sir you are all i have ever believed in. Also, You are the person i want to be. Sir, Please take these words to heart. As you tell me to Aim High. I do.

Athens High School - Athens, AL

Athens High School - Athens, AL

From Teachers

The Hickams are thrilled to hear from over 300 schools a year all over the world who are studying Homer's books and movie. Thank you to all the kind teachers who give permission to reprint their special letters about their wonderful experiences with the Rocket Boys' story in their classrooms.

Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010

Dear Homer,

My husband and I are teaching English in Central China. I want to let you know that we have used your film October Sky to help our Post Graduate university students with their English. As we are teaching at a technology university the students [with] their engineering and technical skills could easily identify with the scientific and experimental parts in the story. I used the topic of the film for the oral test at the end of this term, and, as many students expressed their thoughts about the movie, it was evident that your life story has been a great inspiration for young people who face many challenges and obstacles in this vast country. Many were also touched by Miss Riley's part in the story and expressed a desire to be that sort of teacher in the future.

Chinese students are a delight to teach but face a tough and competitive future. I just thought you would like to know that October Sky is having an impact in some lives in the heart of China. Who knows, some of them may be inspired to set off for Mars!!!

I hope to use the movie next year again.

Yours sincerely,

Dear Mr. Hickam:

Just writing to let you know that I enjoyed using your book as a reading assignment with my 10th grade students for the past 3 years. I am a special education teacher in a rural community in Wisconsin, and have used your book to raise the educational interest and self-esteem of my students. My students read the book (Rocket Boys) orally in class, and we discuss your story in even greater detail. We also use the film October Sky, for further understanding and discussion. I cannot even express how your story has helped raised their self-esteem from a “I can't” to a “I'll try” attitude. Working with special education students (learning and behaviorally disabled) I am always looking for true-life experiences of individuals who over-came obstacles in their lives, to pursue their dreams. Your story is an inspiration to that end. Although, I am sure you receive many emails regarding your books, I felt that I just needed let you know how much I appreciated your work, and that your story also inspired me, to elevate my expectations and goals for my students.

Thank you,

I teach 8th grade physical science, and year before last I taught reading in the content area as well. I saw the October Sky movie and thought it would be very informative, interesting, and inspirational for my students, 70-75% of whom are black, at risk, and in a general environment like the one you came from……The kids really liked the book…but it really all came together when they saw the movie after reading the book.

We weren't teaching reading the same way this year, but I was able to show the movie (takes two class periods), mostly because I want my kids to be inspired. After seeing the movie and finding out I had copies of the book available, the students rushed to check them out—even students in my study hall (when's the last time students in study hall were taught anything?)

Dear Mr. Hickam,

Thank you for taking the time to write Rocket Boys (October Sky). Your book is required summer-break reading for our students. I am a religion teacher and decided to read what was on the reading list.

I was deeply touched by your desire to not only talk about building rockets but also to honor those people whom you describe in your book. The very last paragraph of your text beautifully summarized much of what you wanted to say about the experiences of your youth. Your book qualifies as an ode about love…

Having read your book I am inspired to do even more to learn, to persevere, and to enjoy the adventure of discovery. My students in class will, no doubt, sense my enthusiasm in all I do.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

In three freshman English classes, I have students working on several projects related to Homer's memoir. This is the third year that I have taught Rocket Boys in my classroom. I shared my copy with our Dept. Chair and she agreed that it would be a welcome addition to our curriculum. I have developed 10-15 projects related to the novel, a 4-5 week reading schedule, an activity demonstrating group dynamics and teamwork, parent/child conflict, and some student presentations related to propulsion (crude!). Three groups of students are writing to other schools reading the book too to explore ideas, responses, and to just expand their view of school, growing up, etc.…

We really feel that Homer's book helps us to look not only up, but also to the future! We hope next year to contact other schools who are reading Rocket Boys/October Sky too…

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I am a vocational education teacher at a small high school in the north. For the past 7 years I have taught a class required of all sophomores called Workplace Readiness. I discovered the movie October Sky quite by accident a few years ago. In class, we cover many issues related to the workplace but one of the most important, I feel, is matching interests to career. I have shown the movie every semester since I became aware of it. It ties in nicely with concepts such as problem solving, self motivation, and taking responsibility. The students really like it and I feel if it succeeds in encouraging one of them to dream big and follow that dream the time is well spent. Thanks for sharing your story.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I work with International Students here [in China] at a technical university. I bought the movie October Sky to show to all the students who come to my house, then we have discussions about it. Also I teach Conversational English to the students, many are Chinese scholars, and other visiting scholars in the Engineering Departments. I am showing the movie to these classes in order to teach them English conversation and American culture.

Hello Mr. Hickam,

I am an eighth grade science teacher in California. Part of our curriculum focuses on Physics…as part of our unit this year I assigned October Sky for my students to read (personally, I enjoyed it tremendously). At first, as most eighth graders do, they whined and complained about having to read, especially in Science, not English! Well, after a few weeks I began to hear comments like, “You know, Mrs. D, that's a really good book, I liked it a lot.” I knew they would!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for putting such an inspiring story down for all of us to enjoy…One of my hopes as a teacher is that I can inspire some of my students to “reach for the stars.” After reading your story, I hope that my students are fueled with more desire to achieve their dreams. Thanks again.

Dear Mr. Hickam, Thank you for the great gift you have given me in your books Rocket Boys/October Sky and The Coalwood Way. My father graduated from Big Creek High in the early 1940s…very little of what I have heard has ever seemed positive…I have always felt he came from the bowels of the earth, from a dreadful life of coal dust, miners and hardship.

My father worked in the mines less than a week before he chose instead to join the Army and go off to war! One of his brothers was killed in a mine explosion which killed many men of that area in the late 1950s, his father finally died of black lung in 1976…I never saw the beauty or the “normalcy” of growing up there…being a kid just like kids everywhere. You gave me that gift and I feel I know my dad and some of my history better now…thanks to you. I wish my dad was still alive so I could talk with him about his life there…

My sister rented October Sky on a whim - not knowing the story…what a great surprise! We were really pleased to learn about your story. I have since made this movie a staple in my classroom (I am a history teacher in a high school). My students…always end up transfixed! I teach in an “at-risk” school. So many of my kids don't see they will be able to get out of the “hood” and out of the westside. I liken Coalwood to their world and tell them if you could dream big there and then, so can they!

Thanks for your words and your pictures. I appreciate what you have given me.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I went back to school to become a math teacher, but the road was long and discouraging. Around the time I was about to give up I saw October Sky. The lesson from the movie to follow your dream…really spoke to where I was at the time. I read the book and watched the movie often, every time I needed inspiration. I am now a Pre-calculus teacher in a High School!! Thank you for the needed inspiration to continue.

Mr. Hickam,

A Freshman Curriculum that works!

I've been to Huntsville, Kennedy, and to the naval museum in Pensacola. But all the pictures and paraphernalia I've brought back haven't made a dent compared to the impact of the movie October Sky. Here's how we use it…

I do my “eyewitness the 20th century” presentation first and share my dad's/grandfather's coal mining life. I tell them that my dad saw Sputnik. And we sample some of my grandma's cooking and quilting and memoirs, and I show October Sky. And they get the whole reality of pushing through the communication barrier within the family, defining identity and success, all through building a rocket that would fly.

…And after that, my classroom is never the same. The first time I used the movie, I had to throw out all the lesson plans I had after that, because our room took on a whole new focus…

Last year, one of my kids broke down during her presentation…“I want to thank you for having us do this research. There has been a lot of bickering in my family. This project gave me a reason to know a grandmother I otherwise wouldn't have met.”

…Maybe that's what education is—learning who your kids are, and finding out what meets each group's needs. Maybe it's for every American.

I've read Rocket Boys to know how close Hollywood was able to come. I appreciate the fact that there are teacher resources online on your site. Thank you for responding to my email and giving me a real world resource.

Dear Homer Hickam:

I want you to know that your work is continuing to inspire and change young lives in West Virginia. I was born and raised here in the 60s, the granddaughter of a retired miner…My parents were merchants in town. My ambition was to become a counseling psychologist instead of entering the family businesses.

Much of my favorite labor is in dealing with court-ordered “youthful offenders” (what we used to call juvenile delinquents)…I routinely encounter hostility, resentment and aggression…at some point in their therapy, they are ready for what I call “The Homer Hickam Plan” (documented as “H.H. Therapy” in the case notes). Fully aware that they will never read the book, I compel them to rent October Sky, and to give a full report at our next session…I can tell in an instant when a young man has seen the film. He looks different—there is a gleam in the eye, a new smile, perhaps an improved posture. We spend the entire session laughing and talking about the movie…

Please know that several of these young people have been able to learn the lesson and to get their lives back on track. The lesson of course is not to become a rocket scientist, but to keep on trying.

Thank you very much. Aim High!

Hello Mr. Hickam,

I am just one more of many that have loved your books and applied them to my 8th grade Earth science classes. I wrote a grant last year and obtained $500 to buy 25 copies of Rocket Boys/October Sky and a great deal of rocket materials. We held bi-weekly booktalks and I rewarded those that stuck out the two months with a rocket kit. We learned a lot and had a great deal of fun. I had all my classes read the book this past October - I love the scientific method of your book - the parents loved it and it was a great way to teach many scientific concepts…

I truly love your writing - I wonder how many people have caught on to the hints you gave about Quentin pre-discovering pantyhose, velcro, and teflon cookware! Your story is inspiring. I love to tell the kids that you were not a genius in school - just someone that was truly motivated to succeed in life…

Thanks again!

Mr. Hickam,

I teach English III (juniors) in a small rural town in East Texas. I just finished teaching Rocket Boys for the first time. I am glad to say it was a huge success. Not only did I enjoy teaching the book but my students also enjoyed reading it. Many times it is difficult to get teenagers to read, but I did not have a problem getting them to read Rocket Boys; some of them even finished reading it before the class deadline. I allowed the class to watch October Sky after they finished reading the book. They also enjoyed the movie, but with no exceptions, they all thought the book was better. I used your story to teach my students that their dreams are reachable if they are willing to work hard and make sacrifices.

…Thank you for sharing your story with the world and writing books that are such a pleasure to read. God has truly blessed you with a remarkable talent. Again, thank you for such enjoyable reading and providing me with a wonderful book to teach to my students.

Sincerely,

Dear Mr. Hickam:

Just writing to let you know that I enjoyed using your book as a reading assignment with my 10th grade students for the past 3 years. I am a special education teacher in a rural community in Wisconsin, and have used your book to raise the educational interest and self-esteem of my students. My students read the book (Rocket Boys) orally in class, and we discuss your story in even greater detail. We also use the film October Sky, for further understanding and discussion. I cannot even express how your story has helped raised their self-esteem from a “I can't” to a “I'll try” attitude. Working with special education students (learning and behaviorally disabled) I am always looking for true-life experiences of individuals who over-came obstacles in their lives, to pursue their dreams. Your story is an inspiration to that end. Although, I am sure you receive many emails regarding your books, I felt that I just needed let you know how much I appreciated your work, and that your story also inspired me, to elevate my expectations and goals for my students.

Thank you,

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I wanted to share with you the reaction of my students to my latest showing of October Sky. As usual, there was not a dry eye in the class at the end! One would expect students to be inspired by the story of young men, seemingly destined to life in the mines overcoming adversity and realizing their dreams. What I love the best however, is watching my future social workers fight for the underdog, root for you the others to succeed…they often share their own experiences, with parents, peers, etc. who told them college wasn't for them. I have a number of nontraditional students, who were tracked in high school for vocational school, or straight to employment in the local industries. They are now in college, balancing family and work responsibilities with academic demands…pushing themselves when they have little left to give. Your story inspires them to keep going, and I will show it every semester from now until I retire.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

In my Astronomy class, I show 2 full length movies - Apollo 13 in the moon section and October Sky in the space program section. I show Apollo 13 to show how the people of our space program overcame huge odds in getting those guys back. And I show October Sky, besides the tie in to the space program, as an example of how one man overcame huge odds to make a dream come true. I use it as a tool to help kids who think they can't do science. We don't get into calculus in the intro class but there is a smattering of math and it scares people a lot.

I used to show both movies at the end of the class but now show October Sky at the beginning because it gives people hope!! This kid from a coal mining town, who wasn't good at math, went on to work for NASA! I ask my students to stay in touch if they want and let me know how they are doing. I got a call from a fellow who was going to drop the class because he hated math and was afraid of science. He finished with a B. He called later to tell me he had been accepted by Michigan in the science department.

He attributed his success to October Sky - he kept thinking about those rockets and the small band of kids who made a dream come true. He figured he could do it too. So, Homer, thanks. Thanks for sharing your life with the rest of us. You have inspired many.

Dear Homer,

I just wanted to share how meaningful the movie October Sky has been in my Intro Physics & Chem, Chem I, and Physics classes.

I have taught in two very small, rural communities in Texas and my students strongly identified with your story. You see, my students are predominately poor and/or hispanic and they face overwhelming odds against success in the world. The main sources for jobs are agriculture (cotton) migrant labor and the oil industry. Both are greatly depressed. In addition, my kids are fighting pressures from generations of dropping out and gangs. Drugs and teen pregnancy frequently end any dreams of getting out of the rut.

Here is how we use your movie: During the first week of school, I show the movie and give a quiz. The typical high school student during any other movie usually tunes out, but there are so many parallels between their lives and the lives of the Rocket Boys, that my students are absolutely spellbound. I use the phrase that the teacher says to Homer, “You can't just dream your way out of Coalwood, Homer”, as a challenge for the year. I even post it as a reminder! The movie leaves the kids so excited about science. I am so grateful for the enrichment. At the end of the year, we build and launch rockets. The movie has been such an inspiration and a jumping off point for terrific discussions and further study for so many of my students.

This year, I plan to order several copies of the book, Rocket Boys. I am sure my students will eat them up. Thank you for being such a great example for those kids who need it so desperately. Thank you for writing the book and allowing the movie to be made.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

We hope you will be gratified to know that for two years now, we have used October Sky as a motivational film for our seventh graders…

Seeing Homer and the Rocket Boys figure out a way to go beyond their obstacles to realize their dreams gives kids food for thought in dealing with personal struggles in their own lives. We are glad to offer them a means to see “how to dream” in an electronic age where dreaming, purposeful or wistful, is a dying pastime!

We are currently in the process of developing an interdisciplinary thematic unit with the film as a center-piece. This unit will tie all subjects together using various aspects of the film.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I teach science at a rural high school in East Tennessee. After completion of a unit of laws of motion, I showed October Sky. By coincidence, the next day was the first scheduled meeting day for clubs the school year, so after the movie I gave the pitch for joining science club. I didn't realize what an effect October Sky had on my students. I usually have to beg students to join science club. We had over 45 students sign up! Thanks for telling your story. It was truly inspirational.

Dear Mr. Hickam,

I used the film with my sophomore English class…My purpose for using the movie was for my students to explore the parent-child relationship just as they did in the novel, short stories, and poetry we also studied. What a powerful way for the kids to see how much the father truly loved his son - you! - and how much the son looked up to his father. Both fathers have positions of importance, and both boys feel they come second in their parent's life. I like the message at the end, however, that parents do what they feel is best at the time; they make mistakes but they always love their children.

I, like many others, had several influential teachers in my life who went that “extra mile.” One was the person who convinced me to become an English teacher. A few more were my Miss Rileys - tough, challenging, caring. I don't know where I'd be today - a 25-year veteran - if I hadn't had them…we do a disservice to our students if we don't pay attention to, guide, influence and believe in them all - not just the “rocket boys.” Face it, we don't have the opportunity to teach only “rocket boys.” …but I am going to do my best to make them learn while I have them…I'm tough because I know they can learn. Most just have to believe in themselves a little more…Thank you for telling it straight; thank you for giving me a little push to be even better in my job.

Quotes from Homer Hickam

“You can't be a great country without doing great things.”

“You don't learn how to build a rocket by studying it. You learn by building a rocket - and flying it.”

“The only mistake that we ever made going to the moon was that we stopped…we will be going back.”

www.homerhickam.com

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