When a child joins their classmates on a Challenger Learning Center’s simulated space mission, it’s more than an afternoon of out-of-this-world adventure. It’s a launchpad for learning that encourages them to reach for the stars in the classroom and propels them into a world of discovery.
Since 2003, the Challenger Learning Center in Ferguson has provided more than 150,000 kids with hands-on, science-focused activities that fuel their passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and their teachers with the tools and resources they need to take what their students have learned to the next step.
On Saturday, November 3, the Challenger Learning Center will celebrate 15 years of shaping lives with a free community event that gives any child the chance to experience the wonders of outer space. But before lift-off this fall, the Center is hosting a special logo competition that will give one young artist the chance to put their stamp on history.
Carrying on the legacy of seven heroes
In 1986, following the death of seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, aboard the Challenger space shuttle, their families united to launch an educational movement in their honor – one that would share their love of science with children for generations to come. Two years later, the first Challenger Learning Center opened in Houston, and by 2018, more than 45 Centers had opened around the world.
When the St. Louis location launched in 2003, it carried on a rich tradition of space exploration centered in the Gateway to the West. Besides being home base for McDonnell Douglas, which played a pivotal role in the Project Mercury and Project Gemini programs, Missouri has been the stomping ground for nine astronauts as well as Chris Brown, science coordinator for the Ferguson-Florissant School District, who was a semifinalist for the Teacher-in-Space program.
“It’s not just the historical ties that motivated St. Louis to bring a Challenger Learning Center to the community,” said Tasmyn Front, executive director for the St. Louis center. “There was, and continues to be, a critical need to increase the number of people entering the STEM field. An important step in fulfilling that need starts with capturing kids’ imagination and engaging them in experiences that will inspire them to pursue a degree in those fields.”
She added, “The St. Louis community recognized the important role that the Challenger Learning Center could play in helping students see themselves as a scientist or engineer by harnessing the power of the immersive and unique programming that the Challenger Learning Center experience provides. That was true 15 years ago and is still very much relevant today.”
Since opening its doors, the Challenger Learning Center has provided a wide variety of programming for students and adults alike. In addition to planetarium programs that bring outer space to schools around the region, design-challenge discovery workshops to elevate children’s creative spirit, and professional development workshops for teachers, its main highlight is its simulated space mission.
For two hours, kids can take a trip to Mars, rendezvous with a comet, or explore the livability of the moon. One half the group works aboard the spacecraft while the other half sits in Mission Control before they switch halfway through the mission.
While the Challenger Learning Center’s focus is sparking a child’s interest in STEM, its programming elevates learning in every subject.
“Throughout every mission experience, kids learn that they must use good communication and teamwork skills to be successful as well as creative problem solving and perseverance. These are the skills that current employers say are most lacking in the current workforce. Our programs allow students to understand that they need to be more than ‘book smart’ in order to succeed.”
Celebrating 15 years of powering STEM
Your family can be part of Challenger Learning Center’s 15th anniversary by marking your calendar for Saturday, November 3. Throughout the day, the organization will host a variety of free, fun activities that spotlight its programming and introduce kids to STEM. In addition to hands-on demonstrations, your kids can also enjoy giveaways, rocket launch competitions, and other special events.
But before the celebration begins, the Challenger Learning Center needs a logo to mark this milestone. Kids are invited to try their hand at designing the Challenger Learning Center’s 15th anniversary logo. Plus, kids can take part in a Rocket Design Competition! All entries will be displayed at the November celebration.
Details about guidelines and prizes for both competitions can be found at challengerstl.org.
According to Front, the logo design contest is a way for students to get involved in the Challenger Learning Center and to see what the experience means to them through their eyes.
“We are, after all, here to continue the mission of the Challenger space shuttle crew to inspire the future generation of innovators and explorers.”
Visit the James S. McDonnell Planetarium in Forest Park for star shows for all ages. Show are hourly on the half hour and include a 30-minute Planetarium show in the Orthwein StarBay and a self-guided tour of the Boeing Space Station after the show.