Local middle school students blast off in new program at this college

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Challenger’s ‘Earth Odyssey’ immerses kids in mock space missions.

By Richard Montemayor 

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

It’s all systems go for the Challenger Learning Center at this college.

Challenger is a global space science education program for middle school students. It began 26 years ago in Houston. This college’s center, which started welcoming regular tour groups last week, is one of 50 such centers in the country, said Gina Gutierrez, administrative service specialist for the Scobee Education Center, which houses Challenger.

She said the program teaches students team building, communication and typing skills.

“Each student will be given a job to do, ranging from group leader, in charge of weather and plant life and oxygen,” she said.

The Challenger room has 32 computers on the first and second floor as well as a space station on the second floor, where students can communicate with their classmates on the first floor.

Gutierrez said the mission students will be running is called Earth Odyssey.

“Earth Odyssey is a two-hour space mission where students will be doing a lot of reading and working together to try and finish the mission,” she said.

Gutierrez currently runs two missions a day, with as many as 60 students in the program.

“We just started this program last week with the school visitors, and already I have activities planned from now until May,” Gutierrez said.

The education program has been around since 1988, when the first learning center opened in Houston.

Gutierrez said the program started after the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster, which killed astronaut Dick Scobee and his crew of six.

His widow, June, envisioned the Challenger Learning Center as a place to continue the Challenger crew’s educational mission.

Since that time the program has grown, crossing the globe from the U.S. and Canada to South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Larine Zapata, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher from Austin Academy, brought 53 students to the center.

She said this is her classes’ first time participating in the program.

For more information, contact Gutierrez at 210-486-0103 or gmedrano1@alamo.edu 

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