LCUSD Reaches for the Stars

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Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK Jeffrey Nee, a representative of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory education department, welcomes visitors to the JPL Dome during last week’s Family STEAM Night at Palm Crest Elementary School.
Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
Jeffrey Nee, a representative of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory education department, welcomes visitors to the JPL Dome during last week’s Family STEAM Night at Palm Crest Elementary School.

Billed, appropriately, as a star-studded event, the district’s Family STEAM Night last week at Palm Crest Elementary school wowed 150 attendees, including 4th-grade science fan Aaron Kang, who came to build on his already flourishing astronomical expertise.
“Yeah, this is cool,” he said. “Stars are really cool.”
He and his brother, 1st-grader Elias Kang, spent the evening at school because they wanted to check out telescopes, an iPad stargazing app and, definitely, the JPL Dome stationed inside the school’s multi-purpose room.
Jeffrey Nee, a representative of the JPL education department, led the galactic tour inside the dome — a blown-up tent inside which a projection of space offered 30 stargazers at a time a far-out ride.
“I wanted to show you a little bit about what happens when you really take the time to observe space,” Nee said. “Observation is very important these days. As long as you’re observant, you’ll be just fine in this world.”
Even the youngest participants at last week’s event had an opportunity to get involved, sketching constellations of their own — based either on real observations or their imaginations.
“Kids in general like to know more about planets and stars,” said PCR Principal Karen Hurley, who attended with her daughter, Eva. “Science is fun.”
Jon Potter, a member of the high school’s new Science National Honors Society, hoped that would be the message that shone through most. He and his peers helped run the event, operating telescopes and guiding visitors from throughout the district to the right places.
“It’s all just really cool, interactive stuff,” said Potter, who hoped he’d be able to help youngsters spot some nebulas and planets and perhaps the Andromeda Galaxy. “We’re doing a whole bunch of things this year. We’re running science fairs and science nights at all the schools.
“We’re trying to get kids at a young age involved in these science programs so they’ll be interested in high school and hopefully take on positions like ourselves to keep the process going, as well as pursuing things that we don’t even have the opportunity to yet because we started at a later age.”
La Cañada Unified School District has plans for a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) night almost every month this school year, plus a forthcoming invention convention and science week, according to Amy Nespor, the district’s community science liaison.
“We’re certainly trying to excite our younger students about science, and this time, about the stars,” said Jim Cartnal, LCUSD’s executive director of student and personnel programs and services. “It ties into the work that we’re trying to do with our next-generation science standards in addition to bringing the older kids back to elementary schools to help bring up the next generation of students.”

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