West Point Elementary students blast off with reading

Published 7:37 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

Some West Point Elementary students sure had a ‘blast’ as they ended their reading celebration with a visit to the mobile planetarium through Columbus State University. 

While the kids only walked to the gym, when they got there, they had to crawl through a small chute to enter the huge gray bubble that held the galaxy, space and the planets.

The mobile planetarium has been in existence for almost 20 years said Shawn Cruzen, Executive Director of Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center. 

“Seven years ago, we updated the mobile planetarium and added a digital element that allows us to show videos and do interactive sequences of astronomy on the inside of the dome,” Cruzen said. “We go to elementary schools throughout the area with age-appropriate programming that teaches kids about astronomy.”  

Molly Allen, WPES and Berta Weathersbee Elementary School media specialist, said she wanted to think of ways to get kids reading. She knew many of her students were always excited about astronauts and planets, so she created a Blast Off with Reading incentive program. If students read three or more books in two weeks, they received a series of prizes. The first was a space bookmark. The second was a moon pie. Finally, if students met the goal, they were invited to the planetarium party. 

“Our participation in this reading challenge was outstanding,” Allen said. “We had 70 percent of our students that met the reading goal. They got their picture on the space wall of fame and a ticket to the planetarium.” 

And if one entered the gym, the excitement was loud and clear as the students called out planet names and constellations.  

There have been over 100,000 students who have gone through the mobile planetarium over the course of its existence. Cruzan said they want to inspire students to be curious.

“For so many of these students, this is their first experience seeing constellations and planets in this environment,” Cruzen said. “What we want to do is inspire these children to be curious about astronomy, be curious about science in general, and really have an appreciation for the night-time sky.”