To the stars Local teachers looking to raise funds for new planetarium

A duo of Archuleta School District (ASD) teachers are leading the charge in an effort to raise funds to purchase a new portable planetarium that will allow local students to experience the moon and the stars within the confines of a classroom.
The planetarium, a StarLab, was described by Pagosa Springs Elementary School first-grade teacher Debbie Moore as a “giant balloon.”
“The kids get inside of it, you crawl in, and then there’s a projector that has a cylinder you put on and it displays the stars, constellations,” Moore described.
Currently, the district uses one that is more than 40 years old that belongs to Aspen Academy in Bayfield, Moore explained.
For the last four or five years that Moore and eighth-grade Pagosa Springs Middle School science teacher Anita Hinger have used the older StarLab, they have encountered a variety of problems, Moore explained.
“It has shocked us because the electric is shorting out. There’s a fan that keeps the balloon part inflated and that doesn’t work,” she said. “It’s just old. It’s outdated.”
Eventually, Moore and Hinger looked into what it would cost for a new StarLab, Moore explained.
The StarLab that the two determined would be good for the district includes software, training and a warranty, but would cost $49,040, Moore noted.
This new StarLab would not only cover constellations and mythology, but things like weather, ocean currents and plate tectonics, Moore added.
The district would also have unlimited use of StarLab’s library of programs, Moore explained.
“It’s a big purchase, but considering how long the other one lasted and how much use we can get out of it, we just really feel like it’s important for us as a district to allow kids to have that hands-on, transport you into a different level of learning,” she said.
There have been times that the older StarLab has even broken down in the middle of a lesson, Hinger added.
“This is a really important thing for kids to learn. It’s in the curriculum for a good reason,” she said. “It’s really kind of foundational, understanding the world around you.”
Without the StarLab, nothing would be effective enough to replace that experience for the students, Hinger explained.
Every grade level within the school district would benefit from the new StarLab, Moore added.
The newer StarLab would also accommodate the larger class sizes within the district, Hinger added.
Additionally, the newer StarLab would be able to be kept within the district as it’s able to be packed up and transported in a very easy way, Moore explained.
Hinger also added that the new StarLab will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Raising the funds
So far, $19,500 has been raised for the new StarLab, Moore noted.
Contributing to that total are a $10,000 grant from La Plata Electric Association, $7,000 from ASD, $1,500 from the Rotary Club of Pagosa Springs and a donation from the San Juan Stargazers, Moore explained.
“I think it’s really pertinent to understand that, of the monies that we’ve got, we’ve tried for grants far and wide, but our support is coming local,” Hinger said. “We really firmly believe that now, at this point, we really want the community behind us.”
Despite the price tag, Hinger explained that a new StarLab holds “decades of value.”
There is no set deadline for purchasing a new StarLab, but Moore and Hinger both noted that they would like it for this year’s students.
“We’re looking to have this before the end of the school year,” Hinger said.
If they do not get the StarLab before the end of the school year, they will not quit trying, Moore noted.
“The thing that makes this fundraising project different from other things that the school might ask for is the product goes directly to the students,” Hinger said. “It’s from the community right to the kids. I think that’s pretty meaningful.”
Future fundraisers
On Dec. 11 at 6 p.m., a free screening of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (rated PG-13) will be held in the Pagosa Springs High School auditorium in which donations will be accepted that will go toward the purchase of a new StarLab.
For more information, contact gostarlab@pagosa.k12.co.us.

This story was posted on December 7, 2019.