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Education: Student Space Program Saved by Crowdfunding

Northeast High School Space Program (image courtesy of NBC Philadelphia)

Northeast High School Space Program (image courtesy of NBC Philadelphia)

An innovative high school space education program in Philadelphia that was running out of money was saved by more than $13,000 in crowdfunding.

The Space Research Center was founded at Northeast High School in the early 1960s with the construction of a replica Mercury orbiter capsule and has evolved over the years to include a Mission Control Center, an Animation Training Center, an actual Apollo mission training capsule and a 21 foot long Shuttle Simulator.  The school was the first NASA-recognized high school space program.  Northeast High School is the home of the Medical, Engineering and Aerospace magnet school.

Students who participate in the program – which is nicknamed Project SPARC – finish the program with a simulated two-day real-time mission that brings all of their training together.

The Philadelphia school district – like many school districts around the country – has seen its share of budget problems recently and Project SPARC was in trouble as the district issued an edict to the schools to cut all non-athletic extra-curricular activities.  Students were heartbroken until a group of SPARC alums led a fundraising campaign.  After raising nearly $13,000, Project SPARC was saved and the simulated mission was on!

Schools are always forced to make tough choices and it is becoming increasingly common to see non-sports programs facing the chopping block.  While STEM has been getting a lot of attention in the news, it is not uncommon to see it referred to as “STEAM” – with an “A” for arts (as arts program funding gets cut) and “STEAMM” (with a second “M” for music, as music programs get cut).  At this rate, it’s probably not too long before we see “STEAMMS” (with an “S” for wood shop)!

While arts and music are certainly important – and we have discussed their applications to Science/Engineering/Math education in past posts – it is important not to dilute essential STEM education as it becomes a catch-all for every program that is cut.  All of these programs are important but they also need to receive proper funding so they can stand strong on their own.  We at TROBO obviously feel incredibly passionate about STEM education and programs like Project SPARC – and their passionate alumni – are especially inspirational.  We will continue to tell stories about programs like these (if you know of any special programs, please send them our way!)  Programs like this start kids on a lifetime journey through Science and Engineering and that’s money well spent!

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