If you ask fifth grader Garrett Hicks to talk about black holes, he can do so with ease.

“The beginning of a black hole is when a star collapses under its own mass,” Hicks said. “It forms this black hole where the gravity from the black hole’s singularity, which is the star, is so strong that not even light can escape it.”

Garrett is part of the GAVRT program at North Side Elementary in the Central Dauphin School District. He and a select group of fourth and fifth graders get to control a decommissioned NASA telescope in California, with the help of a charter school there.

“They take the raw data and they calculate the brightness of the radio waves,” parent volunteer Amy Damdin said.

“I think kids sometimes don’t get enough of that challenge or that moment where they don’t know everything,” gifted support teacher Michele Peters said. “I think that’s when they’re learning the most.”

The data they collect and crunch in the group is then passed along to NASA, to apply in their own research.

“I think it’s really cool that it goes to NASA and it makes us all feel really important that we’ve done something to help NASA,” fifth grader Anya Damdin said.

“The students are doing real science,” Amy Damdin said. “It’s an opportunity for them to do real science.”

Many of the kids actually give up recess to seize that opportunity.

“Some of the students, it surprised me, because I know they really enjoy recess,” Peters said. “If you ask them, some would say it’s their favorite subject of the day.”

Garrett likes recess as much as the next guy but says GAVRT is simply out of this world.

“When I first got the paper that says ‘you’ll be working with NASA’ I was like ‘no way,” he said. “It was really awesome.”

For more information about the program, click here.