Tuesday, July 29 was no ordinary day of teaching and learning for Charles County Public Schools (CCPS). At St. Charles High School, students and teachers had an opportunity to learn from Dr. Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut who has traveled to space on four different missions. Chiao was the keynote speaker at the annual Space Foundation Educational Exchange, but was also at St. Charles for another special event – one that has been a longtime coming for Charles County Public Schools. Following the Exchange, a ribbon cutting and technology preview were held for the James E. Richmond Science Center, which is located in the main entry area of St. Charles High School.
The day’s events began with the Space Foundation’s Educational Exchange in which Chiao shared his thoughts about the importance of education and the impact educators can make on the dreams of their students. Chiao serves as a special advisor to the Space Foundation and said that the organization’s commitment to educating children for the future is impressive. “Education plays such an important part in anything you want to do in the future. Teachers have the ability to really touch a child’s life. Education is very important to me and is one of the things that drew me to the Space Foundation,” he added.
The Science Center unveiling was coordinated in connection with the Educational Exchange, which evolved from the school system’s partnership with the Space Foundation. The eight-year partnership supports Charles County Public Schools’ commitment to enhance learning experiences for students. CCPS also provides the Space Foundation Discovery Institute annually during the summer, which features classes for teachers across all curriculum areas. Through these courses, which range from astronomy and meteorology to space exploration and Mars travel, teachers can learn how to infuse space concepts and technologies into fun and exciting lessons for students.
With the opening of the Science Center this school year, additional technologies such as Science on a Sphere and the digital classroom will now be available for use by all Charles County Public Schools students. The Science Center was named in honor of former longtime CCPS Superintendent James Richmond. During his tenure as superintendent, Richmond developed a vision about creating a “wow” factor in student learning, not only in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but across all subject areas. His vision included the use of state-of-the-art technology and Richmond worked diligently to offer Science on a Sphere and digital classroom technology at the new high school for all students, as well as for use by the Charles County community.
Before the ribbon was cut to officially mark the opening of the Science Center, several guests in attendance, including Richmond, gave remarks about the long journey Charles County Public Schools experienced in providing futuristic learning opportunities for children. Richmond and his administrative team first talked about the concept of building a future center with enhanced learning opportunities for CCPS students nearly 18 years ago. During her remarks, Hill said she was excited for students to finally be able to experience enhanced technology available at the Science Center and credits Richmond as “the man behind the vision of the Science Center.”
In his remarks before the ribbon cutting, Richmond said he was overwhelmed by the honor of the Science Center being named in his honor. “I am honored I had the chance for 47 years to help make a difference for children. We need to grow our future scientists by creating the very best learning environment for our children. This center does that and I know Dr. Hill will continue to move the school system forward and push the envelope,” he added.
Christos Michalopoulos, the deputy director for K-12 and informal education for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that CCPS is the first K-12 school system to install Science on a Sphere and use it for the benefit of a whole community. “Welcome to the network where we can share content and knowledge with others,” he added. Science on a Sphere is a large interactive display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six-foot diameter sphere. Researchers at NOAA developed Science on a Sphere as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth science to people of all ages. The digital classroom is a multi-use dome theater that uses high resolution, three-dimensional graphics and surround sound.
Dr. Hill, Richmond and Chiao were joined by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lillian Lowery, Iain Probert, vice president of education/discovery for the Space Foundation, Charles Wineland, former CCPS assistant superintendent for supporting services and Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson, to officially cut the ribbon. Following the ribbon cutting was the preview of the Science Center and its technology. Guests in attendance participated in a sneak preview of student lessons planned for the digital classroom, including a trip to the solar system and the experience of flying, as well as the demonstration of a real-life weather pattern during Hurricane Katrina through data projected off the Science on a Sphere. The Science Center will also feature a hands-on discovery lab, where students can experience learning by doing.
The Science Center officially opens on Monday, Aug. 25 when St. Charles High School first opens its doors for students for the 2014-15 school year. A public event is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 6. Additional details will be published at a later date. For more information, visit the Science Center website at http://www.ccboe.com/sciencecenter/.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,500 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.