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Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

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Living in space with the Columbia Space Center

Clarissa Arceo
After being shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Columbia Space Center in Downey, CA makes the decision to create virtual experiences for students to engage in and learn about space in a safe way.

In the midst of the pandemic and the surging Omicron variant causing schools to return to online learning, the Columbia Space Center in Downey opened registration on Jan. 18 for virtual field trips for K-6 graders for the Spring of 2022.

The program includes a live, hour-long Zoom session on Thursday and Friday mornings in groups of 10-35 students with educators who will cover topics involving astronauts living in space such as research, eating, exercise and hygiene.

After a successful launch of virtual field trips in 2021 when schools were fully conducted online, the Columbia Space Center announced that they would be reopening registration for the Spring of 2022.

Rick O’Connor, the Columbia Space Center’s Program Coordinator, shared that the idea for virtual field trips came from the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

“We as a staff really wanted to get back to connecting with our community,” O’Connor said. “We work here because we truly enjoy working with kids and talking about our love for space, so we set out to develop virtual field trips to rekindle that connection.”

“One of the bigger impacts the Space Center faces is the lack of in-person field trips,” said O’Connor.

“Prior to COVID-19, we were always filled with students roaming the Center, programming robots in our lab, and launching rockets,” O’Connor said, “We miss the in-person connection and look forward to hopefully reviving this program later in the Spring.”

After working with the Space Center for almost 11 years, O’Connor adds that even though COVID-19 has had its negative impacts, the lockdown has allowed his team to develop and become adept in virtual programming.

Yesenia Cuarenta, interventionist for grades K-5 at Gallatin Elementary school, notes that she feels invigorated by the Columbia Space Center’s endeavors to encourage scholars to be exposed to the advantages of virtual learning.

“Scholars are receiving this opportunity to immerse themselves in a topic [space] that already enthralls many students with the bonus of being able to go on a ‘field trip’ without the concern of possibly getting sick,” said Cuarenta.

In addition to the virtual field trips, the Columbia Space Center houses a Challenger Learning Center, a worldwide network of immersive learning experiences in which students get to experience a simulated space mission.

O’Connor shared that the Space Center has opened registration offering virtual sessions for this program as well.

The virtual mission with the Challenger Learning Center is designed for fifth-eighth grade students consisting of 4-36 participants.

This hour-long Zoom session will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, designed to be programmed for remote, hybrid, and socially-distanced classrooms.

The Space Center extends the invitation for both programs to all schools whether they are in the Downey Unified School District or not.

Registration is now open for both field trip and space mission programs for Spring 2022 and will take flight in February and run through June 10.

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About the Contributor
Clarissa Arceo
Clarissa Arceo, Community Editor
Clarissa Arceo is Community Editor for Talon Marks covering community news, Life, and arts & entertainment. She is a Journalism major transferring to a 4-year university in the Fall. Aside from reporting, Arceo enjoys photographing community events, reading contemporary romance and psychological fiction novels, and taking trips to the beach.  
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Living in space with the Columbia Space Center