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Sly Park students reach for the stars

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SLY PARK Environmental Education Center instructor David Welsh talks to a group of students as they sit near the new planetarium located in the gymnasium of the Sly Park Environmental Education Center in Pollock Pines Tuesday April 2. The Planetarium was provided to the education center by a grant from the GenCorp Foundation. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

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From page A1 | April 08, 2013 | Leave Comment

There’s an igloo at the Sly Park Education and Environmental Center and it’s helping students look at the stars.

Gasps of awe from normally nonchalant sixth graders were heard as thousands of stars bloomed inside the darkness of the inflatable black igloo-shaped dome. The new planetarium in the gym at SPEEC holds up to 50 students and a crystal clear LED projector displays stars, constellations and space formations.

SPEEC instructor David Welsh led some 25 sixth graders through the seasons, the constellations and the zodiac with the new system. As he rotated the stars to show the seasonal changes, exclamations and cries of recognition burst forth. SPEEC students experience the stars through a night hike and then the planetarium and finally they spend a couple of nights using the SPEEC’s telescopes.

The StarLab Planetarium was made possible by a donation from the GenCorp Foundation. GenCorp is a technology-based manufacturer of aerospace and defense products and systems, under its parent company, Aerojet. The foundation’s primary giving focus is science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) to encourage students to consider technology careers. Since 2000, the GenCorp Foundation has contributed more than $10 million to its communities.

On April 2, representatives from GenCorps, the Sacramento County Office of Education and the faculty and students of SPEEC dedicated the new planetarium and the first group of sixth graders crawled inside for the viewing.

The igloo replaces an older system, said SPEEC Director Matt Smith.

“We have a dome in a classroom that is dedicated to it, but it’s been about 15 years since we’ve upgraded,” he said. “We’ve had to patch the dome numerous times and repair the equipment, and the old projector is too dim.”

SPEEC applied for a $20,000 grant from GenCorp to upgrade its old system. The new dome holds 50 instead of 25 students, has a bright, clear LED projector and new software, including a special program of the moon.

“For now, we’ve put the dome in the gym so people can have easier access to it,” said Smith. “It’s a little bigger than we expected, so we have to modify the planetarium room to fit it in.”

The remodel will be completed this summer and students will have full use of the planetarium for the new school year. The grant also allowed SPEEC to retrofit the old dome projector with LED, giving SPEEC a backup.

“It was so cool,” said Sigourney Stockton, 11. “I knew some of the things he showed us, but a lot of things were new, too.”

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or wschultz@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

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