Fifth and sixth graders on the Kenai Peninsula have the opportunity to participate in a simulated spaceflight with their classmates, thanks to an annual donation to the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska from Marathon Petroleum.
Marathon’s $25,000 donation will be used to fund several STEM programs offered by the Challenger Learning Center, according to a Wednesday press release. Marnie Alcott, CEO of the Challenger Center, said Wednesday that while Marathon has helped to fund the Center’s “flagship” space simulator programs for over a decade, this year the funds will also be used to cover the cost of the virtual STEM programs.
Alcott said that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the Challenger Center to develop virtual programs so that local students who might be resigned to remote learning can still learn about space with their classmates.
“We put a great deal of effort into developing those virtual programs,” Alcott said. “What was really important was that we preserved the Challenger Center’s mission with these programs.”
The virtual programs consist of take-home kits, either picked up at the center or delivered to the students, that contain all the materials needed for the mission. The students then work in groups, remotely, to solve the problems that are presented to them together.
Cameron Hunt, manager of Marathon’s refinery in Kenai, said in the press release that Marathon was proud to cover the costs of these programs for local students.
“We are continually impressed with the programs at Challenger,” Hunt said in the release. “The missions, I believe, represent very real-word challenges and the program helps build the skills to work as a team to solve them. Marathon is proud to be a premier sponsor once again.”
Alcott said that Marathon’s donation is enough to cover 20 missions using the actual space simulator at the Challenger Center, but the virtual missions are less costly, so the number of missions that are covered will depend on how many teachers opt for the virtual program.
Alcott was already getting calls from teachers on Wednesday and said that her calendar was quickly filling up with missions.
Any fifth or sixth grade teachers who would like to participate in one of these missions can call the Challenger Center at 907-283-2000 to book their class.
A list of missions and virtual topics can be found at the Challenger Center’s website, www.akchallenger.org/schoolsandgroups.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at email@example.com.