Galaxy no longer far, far away for Norwich sixth-graders
By Anna Maria Della Costa firstname.lastname@example.org
NORWICH – Tucked in a back corner of the cafeteria at Teachers' Memorial Global Studies Middle Magnet School, a space set aside for the stars has undergone a facelift.
The entrance to the school's planetarium, a relic from when the building opened in 1975, is obscure. Artwork of astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus hangs above the double doors – the only hint that such a space exists.
"It was so cool the first time we went in," sixth-grader Lelani Charles said. "You get to see what it looks like to be in outer space."
The planetarium at Teachers' Memorial underwent a months-long restoration that included a new rug, chairs and paint and a major upgrade in technology, taking it from an old-style planetarium to a state-of-the-art classroom that re-opened for instruction three weeks ago.
Students, like 11-year-old Lelani, have already gotten a feel for celestial navigation in the 30-seat planetarium that will be the centerpiece of the science and social studies curriculum after not actively being used for nearly two years.
"The stars are beautiful," sixth-grader Alejandro Ramoslabonte, 11, said. "It's more hands-on than reading it in a book."
While both Lelani and Alejandro said they had visited planetariums before, technology instructor Andrew Kortfelt said the majority of students had never been inside a planetarium prior to stepping foot into Teachers' Memorial's to view Orion Nebula, for example.
And their reaction, he said, was "cool."
"We can show full-dome movies, and they get a full view of space," Kortfelt said. "It's fantastic. I love what I call, the geeky part, which is the new programming and software. The technology allows us to create the shows; students get to interact with the globe."
Along with views of the galaxy, Kortfelt said students get a world-view of different climates and can get a glimpse of the paths of hurricanes.
"There was one movie we saw that showed what it looks like under the ocean," Lelani said.
On Wednesday, school officials held a planetarium grand re-opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and 10-minute tours. The renovation cost nearly $237,000, but a Department of Administrative Services School Building Grant for CT Alliance Districts covered those expenses.
"The first thing people asked me when they found out I worked here was, 'is the planetarium still there?'" Shonya Collier, the library media specialist, said. "I say, 'Yes, it's up and running again, and it's very exciting."