A science-themed Challenger Center opens Saturday in Pottstown

POTTSTOWN — The Challenger Space and Technology Learning Center will open to the public Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Montgomery County Community College’s Riverfront Park facility, 140 College Drive.

A ribbon cutting will take place on Friday.

The site will offer a variety of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs centered on simulated space missions designed to inspire and engage students in grades 5-8.

The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, the new center will join Challenger’s network of learning centers that have reached nearly six million children worldwide.

The Challenger Learning Center serves as a regional hub for innovative STEM learning experiences, where students of all backgrounds embark on simulated space missions aboard a fully-immersed, mission-controlled spacecraft, working together to conduct hands-on experiments and solve challenging problems, with virtual missions conducted in their classrooms .

Each student must play their part, building self-confidence and demonstrating the power of teamwork. Challenger Learning Center missions are creating “jobs” for students to foster ongoing STEM engagement, STEM college degree study, pathways to STEM internships, apprenticeships and careers, and workforce development.

Last month, a lucky few were able to immerse themselves in the center during a special Planet Janet summer camp at the center.

Vacationers on the planet Janet have been given specific tasks for a virtual lunar mission. (Submitted photo)

“We were really beta testers of the Challenger Center before the big grand opening,” said Janet Ivey, creator and CEO of Janet’s Planet. “I’ve seen these missions before, and to see the kids’ faces and see how seriously they take mission control and navigation and the geology of it all is pretty cool.”

Each student was assigned a responsibility including communications, medical team, navigation, rover design, among others, and working in teams to complete the lunar mission.

“Along with all the cool space stuff they’re learning,” Ivey said, “they’re also learning good human behavior and how to be a better crewmate in space and on Earth.”

During summer camp
During the Planet Janet summer camp, the students settled in the virtual control center station. (Photos sent)

For Kevin Orangers, director of education engagement and innovation, bringing Janet’s Planet campers to the Challenger Center was a perfect fit.

“Challenger has given our campers an extraordinary experience,” he said. “Still a real understanding of what it takes to accomplish a space mission through cooperation, effective communication and teamwork.”

Campers attending the Janet’s Planet session in Pottstown benefited the First Presbyterian Church of Pottstown/Porter Broward Foundation. “I have proposed to the church through the Porter Broward Foundation to offer Planet Janet Camp this summer,” said Fred Remelius, a member of the First Presbyterian Church Foundation.

“To plant a seed in the minds of the people of Pottstown that the Challenger Center and Janet’s Planet are worthwhile programs and the Pottstown School District needs to get involved. The Challenger Center will be a boost for Pottstown,” he said.

In recognition of this belief, organizers of this year’s GoFourth Festival in Pottstown made the Challenger Learning Center the theme of the event.

Additionally, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous Pottstown donor, 17 local Pottstown campers were also able to join in on the fun. This gift helped double attendance at the Pottstown camp this year.

Janet's Planet campers pose for a photo at the new Challenger Training Center in Pottstown last month.  (Submitted photo)
Janet’s Planet campers pose for a photo at the new Challenger Training Center in Pottstown last month. (Submitted photo)

Other exciting events that took place during Planet Janet included a visit by retired NASA astronaut Dr. Donald A. Thomas to the College’s Blue Bell campus. Thomas’ resume includes four space shuttle flights where he served as a mission specialist. Thomas talked about what it took to become an astronaut, what life in space is like, answered questions and signed autographs.

The camp also hosted a star-studded party for Pottstown and Blue Outside campers with a guest lecture by MCCC Associate Professor of Physics Kelly Carrada. Campers and their families learned about the new James Webb Space Telescope and his recent images of the Kiel Nebula and other infrared images of deep space. They were also given a tour of the observatory located in the Advanced Technology Center on the Blue Bell campus.

Janet’s Planet campers last visited Limerick’s Heritage Field Airport to meet aviation experts from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 1250, do aviation activities such as navigation and aerodynamics and explore some of the aircraft there.

“Janet creates the truly best summer camp for students. One that differentiates between different learning styles and abilities,” Orangers said. “Parents continue to send their kids back to Janet’s Planet every year because she engages and fosters camp activities with students in a fun and completely immersive learning environment.”

MCCC has partnered with Ivy for years to bring these educational, enriching summer camps to the youth of the community. Ivey, an award-winning science educator, is the creator and CEO of Janet’s Planet, a dynamic series focusing on science, space, history and exploration. The series, which aired on more than 140 public television stations nationwide, won 12 regional Emmy Awards and five Gracie Awards. She is also president of Explore Mars, is an active ambassador for NASA’s JPL Solar System, and serves on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society.

Janet's Planet campers got plenty of hands-on experience using the equipment at Pottstown's new Challenger Center, which opens to the public Saturday.  (Submitted photo)
Janet’s Planet campers got plenty of hands-on experience using the equipment at the new Challenger Center in Pottstown, which opens to the public Saturday. (Submitted photo)

“At Montgomery County Community College, we are proud of the role we play in connecting students of all ages to innovative and inspiring academic programs,” said Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez, College President.

“The Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown offers a state-of-the-art environment for Southeastern Pennsylvania children to discover their passion for learning and STEM skills through exciting space simulations and out-of-this-world educational experiences that are directly linked to the National Science Standards. Mustang is grateful to the Pottstown School District for being our first partner in this important endeavor,” Basteki-Perez said.

“We are very excited to open the first Challenger Learning Center in Pennsylvania,” said Lance Bush, Challenger Center President and CEO. “Montgomery County Community College is an ideal partner in this regard. The Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown fulfills our mission to empower students to discover endless opportunities in STEM.”

One of the many goals of the Challenger Learning Center in Montauk-Pottstown is to serve students from traditionally underserved populations and increase their interest in STEM. In its first year, the Challenger Learning Center in Montauk-Pottstown aims to serve about 7,000 students in grades 5-8, with at least 50 percent students from underrepresented and underserved student groups.

The Community Day event on Saturday will feature a variety of activities and entertainment, including Challenger Tours/Mini Missions; STEM activities; food trucks; live music by Montco Radio and local vendors, including MCCC Admissions, Schuylkill River Greenways and Pottstown Children’s Discovery Center.

In addition, there will be a Challenger 5K Space Race and 1-Mile Walk on Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m.

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