Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion 
The Challenger Learning Center is seen here in Kenai, Alaska on Sept. 10, 2020.

Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion The Challenger Learning Center is seen here in Kenai, Alaska on Sept. 10, 2020.

City of Kenai awards grant to Challenger Learning Center of Alaska

The city council unanimously approved the $100,000 grant

The Kenai City Council unanimously approved a $100,000 grant for the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) to help mitigate the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CLCA reached out to the city to request a grant to be funded with CARES Act money. According to a memo provided to the city council, $30,000 will be used for operational costs for the months of October, November and December, and $10,000 will be used for materials and shipping.

The CLCA is part of the Challenger Learning Center of Space Science Education network, which was created in 1986 by the families of astronauts lost in the Challenger 51-L mission. CLCA has been in operation since April of 2000 and is a private nonprofit corporation. The center serves the entire state of Alaska and uses programs such as simulated space and earth science missions, distance education and workshops to help young people develop an interest in STEM fields.

According to the memo, the CLCA has adapted to the reduction of in-person learning due to the public school closures by developing virtual programs that allow students to participate remotely. Virtual programs are provided at no cost to participating students.

In August, CLCA received the 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Innovation in Education for their “Alaska Meets Bermuda Camp” which saw the center work with the Bermuda Ministry of Education to create a cultural STEM exchange camp between students that they were ultimately forced to continue virtually.

CLCA CEO Marnie Olcott, who addressed the council at their Nov. 4 meeting, spoke to the financial strain the center has felt during the pandemic.

“When COVID hit, it completely cut us off at the knees,” Olcott said. “We lost every ounce of revenue that we had coming in because our programs are in-person [and] hands-on.”

Olcott also said that they have inquired to school districts about what mitigation protocols CLCA could implement that would allow students to resume on-site learning at the center. Currently, home-school students are able to participate in programs in person at the center.

More information about CLCA and the virtual programming they offer can be found at www.akchallenger.org or by calling 907-283-2000.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com

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