Balloons shaped like penguins, dragons and flying pigs took to Albuquerque skies Friday morning at the Balloon Fiesta’s Special Shape Rodeo. Sarracino Middle School students were in the crowd of onlookers, there for a hands-on science lesson.

The middle school took 40 students to Balloon Fiesta to experience the cultural event and to learn how hot air balloons work.

“I like learning about how the engines work on the balloons,” said Victor Acosta.

“I learned they have floats so they can keep from going up before they want to,” said Rylan Hicks.

The middle schoolers wandered the field in small groups to get an up-close look at the balloons. Phones were out to film the spectacle and, like many of the spectators, the students were excited to seek out certain balloons.

“Most of them have never been to Balloon Fiesta, which that’s one of the things New Mexico is known for. That’s part of their heritage and we’re just an hour from it,” said Principal Holly Mayfield.

The Balloon Fiesta field trip was part of the school’s Friday programming.

The Socorro Consolidated School District switched from a five day to a four day school week this school year, but some families do not have something to do with their kids on those Fridays. Childcare can already be an issue for families in the summer month, said Mayfield. So, the district’s schools are offering Friday programming.

At Sarracino, Friday mornings are normally committed to tutoring, while in the afternoons kids can work on large scale projects. So far this semester, the middle school students have constructed marble runs, learned about building tiny homes from a community member and built their own robots.

“I really think those types of hands on projects are valuable for students. It allows them to apply the scientific process and critical thinking skills,” said Mayfield.

Regular class periods are short enough that it can be difficult to fit in regular science experiments, she said, much less large-scale projects.

“I feel really fortunate that we have the opportunity for Fridays because it allows us to fit in things that are difficult to do in a traditional school day where you have 45 to 50 minute class periods.”