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School club teaches students about amateur radio

New club at Beam Intermediate teaches students about amateur radio 

When you think about students and communication devices, the first thing that comes to mind is a cell phone, but not for students involved in the Falcon Radio Club at W.B. Beam Intermediate School in Cherryville.

For fourth grader Alexis Dobson, getting involved in amateur radio was an easy decision.

“My grandfather is a ham operator,” explained Dobson, whose interest was sparked when her grandfather allowed her to communicate “third party” with other operators.  “Being involved in learning about amateur radio allows me to have a common interest with him.”

Through a generous donation from the Donald and Carla Beam Family Foundation, the Falcon Radio Club was created to promote an interest in the amateur radio hobby among students and community members.  As a ham radio operator for the past 14 years, W.B. Beam Intermediate school counselor and club adviser Mark Reep has seen the many benefits that amateur radio has to offer students. 

“Whether it is learning about weather phenomena, geography, math, astronomy, physics, or even social studies, amateur radio has become a platform for bridging the gap between what students learn in books and what they’re able to experience outside the classroom,” said Reep.

Fourth grader Lauren Bell didn’t know what amateur radio was until a Zoom call with Mr. Reep and other classmates.

“Mr. Reep explained to us that amateur radio allows operators to communicate with others as far away as the International Space Station,” said Bell. “To use a two-way radio to communicate with astronauts is amazing.”

In just a short time, the Falcon Radio Club members have communicated with operators in Curacao, Puerto Rico, Germany, Dominican Republic, Italy, St. Martin, St. Lucia, and the Canary Islands. 

“Ham radio operators welcome a younger audience that is eager to learn.  They are willing to share their knowledge with just about anyone who wants to learn,” explained Reep, who established the club and secured a license from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).  The FCC recognizes the school club by the call sign N2FRC.  

Additionally, amateur radio provides students with a platform to get hands-on experience and knowledge in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  Students have the opportunity to learn about weather and how it affects radio propagation as well as how ham radio can be used to help a community during an emergency.  For example, in times of natural disasters, amateur radio is often used as a means of communication when cell phones and other conventional means of communication fail.

Another focus of the Falcon Radio Club is to encourage students to continue their interest in amateur radio by obtaining their amateur radio license.  

“Once students pass their technician exam, the FCC will issue them a technician license that will allow them to talk on allocated bands with their own radio,” explained Reep, who set up practice exam questions and study handouts in the Schoology virtual learning management system. “Students are already studying by quizzing one another on the phonetic alphabet that operators use to communicate.”

Students who earn their amateur radio license develop the interest and skills that lead to professional career choices in public service.  Principal Todd Dellinger believes the amateur radio club is ideal for his students as they eventually transition to the Public Service Academy at John Chavis Middle School.  The Academy is a school choice program that gives students an opportunity to explore careers in police, fire, emergency medical care, government, criminal justice, and education.  Cherryville High School also has the Public Service Academy program.

“Our amateur radio club is a benefit for our students, especially the ones who will go on to pursue a career in a public service area,” said Dellinger.  “The communication and technical skills they are learning now can be put to good use in the future.”