Woodvale Elementary students were transported to a galaxy far, far away for their space odyssey-themed symposium on Friday where they learned about the science, math and engineering skills that make space exploration possible.

Students shouted with excitement when the day blasted off with a toy rocket launch. They later rotated between stations, including creating robots out of a toothbrush, re-creating constellations and learning how to code through hopscotch.

Fourth-grader Andrew Quebedeaux, 9, said he was in awe when his newly created “Bristlebot” spun rapidly in circles before shooting off the table, and he especially liked learning about constellations and making his own version of Gemini with star stickers and chalk.

“It gave me a nice challenge to think about,” he said.

Each year, Andrew said he brainstorms about the new theme as anticipation for the next symposium builds. “I’m always waiting for it,” he said.

Symposium chairwoman and Woodvale parent Brandi Comeaux said there’s a certain magic to symposium day that’s difficult to describe. It was the first event she volunteered for when her oldest son started kindergarten at Woodvale six years ago, and it’s captured her heart ever since, she said. She’s chaired the event for the past four years.

Each year, the theme rotates between art, math, science, history and Louisiana, but the mission is always the same: To inspire the children through hands-on learning and show them learning is fun and exciting.

Classroom instruction can be limited because teachers don’t always have the time or resources to supplement instruction with activities, Comeaux said. Symposium day is funded entirely though parent-teacher committee fundraising, giving every child the opportunity to participate while lessening the load on teachers.

Planning for each symposium is almost a yearlong process, and once the theme is solidified, the team partners with community organizations and businesses to bring the event to life, she said.

“I think it’s important for the kids to see all the things in the community that are available to them and to take the things they learn in the classroom and apply it to real jobs and real people,” Comeaux said. “I think Lafayette has a really cool, connected community, and this is one of the ways that we continue to bring the kids into it.”

U.S. STEM@CGI manager Anne Swanson and a colleague shared a moment with a student Friday. Before leaving the activity tent, the little boy turned to a CGI employee and declared, “'I want to be a senior consultant like you,'” Swanson said.

That’s the company’s goal when volunteering with students. CGI is a global IT and business services company and student mentorship ensures a talent pipeline. More importantly, it shows the children what’s possible with their interests and talents and makes STEM fields accessible, Swanson said.

“I think it’s easy to view computer science and other STEM-based professions as something that only an elite group of people can do, and something that’s not something super accessible to anyone interested," she said. "By making it fun, we’re saying that it is accessible."

To make coding fun, Swanson and fellow CGI team members guided students through a hopscotch activity, where they related “Simon Says”-style command executions to programmers training computers through coding.

Seeing the students build connections between the technology they use and how it functions “was really neat,” she said.

Fourth-grade gifted math and science teacher Taylor Wallace said fun and interaction is the gateway to student achievement. She said it’s her mission to ensure her students love school and find value in their educational pursuits.

“I don’t think they’re going to learn hardly anything unless they’re wanting to be there, they have good relationships and they have a good environment to learn in,” she said.

Wallace, 26, attended Woodvale for second through fourth grade and remembers her symposium days warmly. She recalled the pride she felt helping lead younger students in activities as a member of the fourth-grade science club and painting tiles that still hang in the Woodvale hallway.

It’s special to share the tradition with a new generation of Woodvale students, she said.

“It’s very fulfilling and it makes my heart happy because I know how much fun and how many fond memories I had as a student here and to help bring kids the same kind of memories I know they’re remember forever is very rewarding,” Wallace said.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com