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20th-century tech, 21st-century skills

Pinewood Christian Academy students have made contact with people all over North America using radio.

By Jason Borko November 2018

Twice a year the Amateur Radio Relay League hosts the amateur radio School Club Roundup. Schools across North America and beyond use two-way radios to make contact with other schools and individual operators. Pinewood Christian Academy students participate in both the October and February sessions each year.

For an entire week, students gather around radios after school in a room filled with static and the sounds of distant voices. The students call “CQ CQ [calling all stations] for the School Club Roundup,” and they hear replies from individuals and schools around the world. In past roundups, PCA students have made contact with stations as far away as Tasmania (yes, the one in Australia!). These are called DX stations and, when a DX station is heard, the room gets eerily quiet while everyone listens in. When the call sign of the DX is confirmed, cheers resound throughout the room.

“We’ve even listened in as the International Space Station made contact with earth-bound radio stations,” beams Joe Bassett, training officer for amateur radio emergency services in northeast Florida, technology teacher at PCA, and the club’s advisor. “We also show students the community service aspect of amateur radio, like the part played by local hams in the search for a missing man in Jennings State Forest and their support of the Clay County Emergency Operations Center during the recent hurricanes, and how amateur radio can help missionaries in remote locations. They learn the value of giving back to the community.”

What’s the point in spending so much time with such aged technology? For the students, it’s the thrill of accumulating points for contacting as many stations as possible; Pinewood students have placed second in the elementary category in the last three roundups. But Basset has a hidden agenda: “The kids think they’re just having fun with radio, but they’re also learning about other cultures, foreign languages, geography, electrical theory, physics, and computer science!”

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