A Smile as Big as the Moon: A Special Education Teacher, His Class, and Their Inspiring Journey Through U.S. Space Camp

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Besides being a football coach at his Michigan High School, Mike
Kersjes taught special education classes, dealing with children whose disabilities included Tourette syndrome, Downs Syndrome, dyslexia, eating disorders and a variety of emotional problems.

One autumn Kersjes got the outlandish idea that his students would benefit from going to Space Camp, where, in conjunction with NASA, high school students compete in a variety of activities similar to those experienced by astronauts in training for space shuttle missions. There was only one problem: this program had been specifically designed for gifted and talented students, the best and the brightest from America's most privileged high schools.

Kersjes believed that, given a chance, his kids could do as well as anybody, and with remarkable persistence broke down one barrier after another, from his own principal's office to the inner sanctum of NASA, until Space Camp opened its doors, on an experimental basis, to special ed students. After nine months of rigorous preparation, during which the class molded itself into a working team, they arrived at Space Camp, where they turned in a performance so startling, so surprising, that it will leave the reader breathless. A truly triumphant story of the power of the human spirit.

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About the author

Mike Kersjes is president of Space Is Special Inc., a not-for-profit organization that helps special education students enhance their science and mathematics skills using space as a motivational theme. He has been a special education teacher and football coach for more than twenty years with the Forest Hills Public School system and is currently working with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of California, Irvine. Kersjes lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Joe Layden is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He lives in upstate New York.

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Additional Information

St. Martin's Press
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Published on
Apr 1, 2007
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Biography & Autobiography / Educators
Biography & Autobiography / People with Disabilities
Education / Special Education / General
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One of America's best short story writers and author of three fine novels, Boston Adventure (1944), The Mountain Lion (1947), and The Catherine Wheel (1952), Jean Stafford has been rediscovered by another generation of readers and scholars. Although her novels and her Pulitzer Prize–winning short stories were widely read in the 1940s and 1950s, her fiction has received less critical attention than that of other distinguished contemporary American women writers such as Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty. In this literary biography, Charlotte M. Goodman traces the life of the brilliant yet troubled Jean Stafford and reassesses her importance.

Drawing on a wealth of original material, Goodman describes the vital connections between Stafford's life and her fiction. She discusses Stafford's difficult family relationships, her tempestuous first marriage to the poet Robert Lowell, her unresolved conflicts about gender roles, her alcoholism and bouts with depression—and her amazing ability to transform the chaotic details of her life into elegant works of fiction. These wonderfully crafted works offer insightful portraits of alienated and isolated characters, most of whom exemplify not only human estrangement in the modern world, but also the special difficulties of girls and women who refuse to play traditional roles.

Goodman locates Jean Stafford within the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. In her own right, and through her marriages to Robert Lowell, Life magazine editor Oliver Jensen, and journalist A. J. Liebling, Stafford associated with many of the major literary figures of her day, including the Southern Fugitives, the New York intellectual coterie, and writers for the New Yorker, to which she regularly contributed short stories. Goodman also describes Stafford's sustaining friendships with other women writers, such as Evelyn Scott and Caroline Gordon, and with her New Yorker editor, Katharine S. White.

This highly readable biography will appeal to a wide audience interested in twentieth-century literature and the writing of women's lives.

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