The Morris Museum Brings Space Camp to Newark Students

As the holidays draw near, we cannot help but think about those that are less fortunate than us.  Here at the Morris Museum, giving back to our communities is one of our most important goals.  We are, after all, powered in part by the generosity of donors, big and small.  One of our favorite initiatives from the past year is the recently completed Aeronautics Outreach Program sponsored by a NASA Grant.  Our Outreach Department worked with the SPARK Academy, a charter school in Newark that serves low-income students from the surrounding areas, to provide six full sessions to over 100 students about Aeronautics and Space Exploration. 

Last year, the third grade students at SPARK, who are all referred to as Scholars, read a NASA-issued book about space exploration. When prompted at the end of the book to enroll in NASA Space Camp for Kids, they were quite verbal about their disappointment that they would not be able to attend a Space Camp, acknowledging their parents financial limitations.  When these same third graders, now fourth grade Scholars, learned of our visits, it suffices to say that they were extremely excited, referring to us for the duration of the program as “NASA Space Camp.” 

During our time at SPARK, we were able to do six sessions on Aeronautics and Space Exploration, focusing first on the four forces of flight (Gravity, Lift, Thrust, and Drag) and culminating in an exciting visit to our traveling planetarium.  The students did hands-on experiments to investigate each of the four forces of flight.  They made two different paper airplanes and balloon rockets, as well as using ping pong balls and straws to learn about air pressure.  The sessions spanned a six week period and were presented by two of our educators.  The Scholars were extremely well-behaved, becoming fully engaged in experiments and asking well thought out questions.  They greeted us each day with excitement and an eagerness to learn.  The sessions culminated in the exploration of our traveling Planetarium.  Once inside the planetarium, the Scholars could see planets, stars, constellations and asterisms. Having already learned about Greek Mythology, the Scholars were enthralled by the connections with the constellations.  The design of the program allowed us to bring together the Scholars’ previous knowledge and the basics of Aeronautics and Space Exploration in an innovative and engaging way. 

The school itself is a delight. Having been partially funded by the GAP, they have a wonderful facility and abundant resources.  The staff is clearly committed to the success of their little Scholars, and the environment is one of “Growing your Brain.”  They employ catchphrases such as “Gaining Knowledge on our way to College” and have a  college-centric ethos, each of the classrooms being named after a different top university.  The Scholars are extremely bright, and they communicate their understanding of advanced concepts using American Sign Language to facilitate a quiet and respectful classroom environment. They indicate whether they agree or disagree with their classmates hypotheses (thumbs up or down), are a little confused by the concept being presented (ASL for confused) or send their fellow scholars support and encouragement (sparkle fingers).  The administration presents Scholars of the Week every Friday based on the month’s theme (November was Teamwork) and sing “Lean on Me” during morning assembly.  It is truly inspiring.

Thanks to the generosity of NASA, we were able to make a difference in these children’s lives, presenting them with Morris Museum Certificates when they finished the program.  We were able to go outside the walls of the Museum to share our knowledge and resources with an inspiring group of young people.  We may have been the official educators here, but without doubt the Scholars taught us about perseverance and the true value of access to safe and innovative education.