Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reopening The Carl Sandburg Planetarium

Over the last six months, I've been working with Carl Sandburg Principal Terrence Yarborough to get the planetarium functional again.

If anyone knows any likely volunteers, please shoot me a note.

Here's a piece I wrote for the Gazette.

Reaching for Stars
Students need to be able to see them to imagine they can attain them.

Back when I was a student at Waynewood Elementary, field trips were always a big moment. Several stick out in my head — Jamestown & Williamsburg in 4th Grade, Philadelphia in 6th Grade, and one other — the Planetarium at Fort Hunt High School (Carl Sandburg Intermediate School today).

I remember learning the difference between the size and color of stars and planets in the sky, the changing of the constellations, and the corny picture of the arrival of Halley’s Comet in 1986. Coming straight on the heels of Star Wars IV and V, it was an amazing experience for a kid from Northern Virginia where the sky has never really been the best place to stargaze.

On one of the nights right before my election, I was out after midnight putting up door hangers in Hybla Valley and got a call while walking by a field at the back of some condominiums that backed up to Huntley Meadows Park. While I was talking on the phone, I started looking around and couldn’t believe how few stars there were due to the light pollution. It got me thinking about how kids in our areas probably do not see many stars between the light from Washington, D.C. and the U.S. 1 Corridor.

After I was elected, I had a conversation with a Fairfax County School administrator who was not even aware of the Planetarium’s existence — it hadn’t been used in years due to lack of resources to fund field trips and a lack of staff to run the equipment.

Fairfax County teaches astronomy units in 4th, 5th and 6th Grades. Fairfax County Public Schools also has eight planetaria — the highest concentration in the United States except for Dallas, Texas. Seven of them have staff and are operational. Carl Sandburg’s is the only one that is not functional.

Carl Sandburg’s new principal, Terrence Yarborough, is working on getting the equipment operational, locating volunteers, and staff willing to be trained. I’m also working on some funding. Hopefully, it will be back up soon so that the children in our community can benefit from the same things we did as a kids growing up in this community.

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