‘GMA’ surprises teacher who helps students reach for the stars with $10K

Rhonda Ripperger, a STEM lab teacher at South Lake Elementary in Florida, gets students excited about learning with projects and lessons about space.
5:54 | 12/07/21

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Transcript for ‘GMA’ surprises teacher who helps students reach for the stars with $10K
[MUSIC - ELTON JOHN, "ROCKET MAN"] - Good morning, America. ELTON JOHN: (SINGING) Burnin' out his fuse up here-- - Now that is a great good morning, America right there. Welcome back, everybody. All week long we're, of course, counting down to Michael's liftoff to space. That's on Thursday. But this morning, we are talking to one teacher shooting for the stars herself. Rhonda Ripperger-- there she is. Yeah, she's working on a space project actually with some of her students at Florida's South Lake Elementary. Now this is kind of in NASA's backyard down there in Florida. And they're all about to get a major surprise this morning. But first, take a look at this. - 3, 2, 1, go. [ROCK MUSIC PLAYING] TJ HOLMES: At South Lake Elementary, teaching science is done a little differently. - So here at South Lake in the Smart Lab, I teach students how to integrate a ton of hands-on activities that relate to fields of study that they would eventually go into in the real world. TJ HOLMES: Located just 18 miles from the Kennedy Space Center, students at South Lake Elementary have a special fascination with outer space and the process of getting there. - When people think of the space industry, I think they automatically jump to rockets and shuttles, us landing on the moon, exploring Mars. And those aspects are really exciting. But there's a lot that goes into getting our astronauts and our explorers into space. TJ HOLMES: The Smart Lab provides students opportunities to get close to zero gravity while also teaching skills, like coding and engineering, that will set them up for the future. - The jobs that our students will end up having when they graduate from college haven't been invented yet. 1. [CHEERING] TJ HOLMES: The science made fun, inspiring some students to shoot for the stars. - I want to be an engineer. - I want to be an influencer on YouTube or be an astronaut. - I kind of see myself as being a materials engineer. - I think it'd be cool to explore other planets beyond our own-- go there and see Mars, just not through the camera of a Rover, but through my own eyes. It's kind of like unfathomable-- unfathomable? ELTON JOHN: (SINGING) Rocket man, burning out his fuse up there alone. TJ HOLMES: With Miss Ripperger behind them, these kids can do anything, in this world or out of it. - Not only am I inspiring them to look forward to their careers, but to reach for the stars. ELTON JOHN: (SINGING) I'm a rocket man. - And taking a little break from their project now to talk to us, Miss Ripperger and her students. Good morning to you all. Miss Ripperger, how are you guys doing this morning? - Good morning. We're awesome this morning. How about you guys? - We are awesome as well. As you know, we have our own astronaut, a member of our team going to take off here in a couple of days. But what is it? What do you find the kids-- we heard many of the kids talk about wanting to be engineers or in the space program. But then we heard one say, well, I want to be a YouTuber or maybe a space engineer. What's the level of interest, would you say, among your students there? - Our students are amazing here at South Lake. And they love learning about space, not just how to become a rocket or how to design a rocket or become an astronaut, but how to program that rocket or make that rocket lift off. They are so excited about space, and I cannot wait to see what they do in the future. - You sound excited as well. What's the highlight for you in doing this job? - Oh, definitely working with the students. I love getting down on the ground with our kindergarteners and building bridges. And I love working with all of our students on the STEAM projects in the Smart Lab. TJ HOLMES: Now what are the ages of the kids I'm seeing there? What are their ages? - This group right here in front of you-- this is fourth grade to sixth grade, so about nine years old to 12 years old. - OK, well, we have-- - But I work at a school with kindergarten through sixth grade. - OK. So we have a really big kid that's going to be going to space here in a couple of days, Strahan. And he has a message for your class. We want everybody to take a listen to this. - Hello, Miss Ripperger and students of South Lake Elementary. You are out of this world. Keep your head in the stars because I am doing the same. I'm learning so much about space. And I want you to keep on learning, too, all right? Good luck. - He's getting just kind of a crash course this week. The kids have to get a little more than that. I probably shouldn't use "crash" in this reference. That's not-- OK, he's getting a quick course, I should say. But we have something special for you, Miss Ripperger, for your class and what you all have achieved. I want you to know that we are giving your school and you $10,000 from Donors Choose. It's going to help you in what you're doing and teaching. [LAUGHTER] - Yay! [APPLAUSE] - OK, now you've been excited this whole segment. But now you're really excited. And every teacher in this country knows Donors Choose and what you all have to do. And sometimes you have to rally and get donations. What can something like that mean for your class, your students, in that school? - This is going to change a lot here. I am so excited. And I know our students will be, too. TJ HOLMES: And I'm sure-- - Thank you so much. TJ HOLMES: You've probably already figured out exactly what you're going to buy with probably at least $9,950 of that. - I spend money very quickly here. I know exactly what I'm going to get. - Miss Ripperger, please give our best to all the students there. You all keep shooting for the stars. OK, thank you so much. And thank you for spending some time with us, and get back to work. - Thank you. [APPLAUSE] - All right, thank you, guys. I love that. Every teacher knows Donors Choose does such great work. It allows folks to donate specifically to classrooms for specific projects. - In their communities you can do that. - It's so fantastic. So congrats to them.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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