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Philadelphia / Science / STEM / Youth

Blast off: Montco’s new Challenger Learning Center wants to send your kid to space

Montgomery County Community College and the national Challenger Center just opened the space-themed STEM education hub in Pottstown, with an aim to reach 7,000 students this year.

The new Challenger Learning Center in Pottstown. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

Kids in Montgomery, Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Berks and Lehigh counties will now be able to see what it’s like to go on mission to space — without leaving their home state.

Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) and the nonprofit Challenger Center officially opened the Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown on Friday (hey, just before the Artemis 1 mission was supposed to launch). This center will join a network of other science, technology, engineering and mathematics education-focused Challenger Learning Centers around the country.

The news of this space and partnership between MCCC and the Challenger Center was first announced in January 2021. The center will offer hands-on STEM programs with a focus on children in grades five through eight.

The opening event included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, opening remarks from MCCC and Challenger Center officials, and tours of the new site. This is the first Challenger Learning Center in Pennsylvania.

MCCC and Challenger Center officials cutting a ribbon.

MCCC and Challenger Center officials cut the ribbon of the new learning center. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

The Challenger Center organization was named to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51-L, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Thus, the focus of the programs at the center will be simulated space-themed missions.

There are three types of programming offered at this center: in-person simulated missions, virtual missions and classroom adventures.

“The simulation-based experiences are led by our trained flight directors in our fully immersive Space Station and Mission Control at the center in Pottstown,” Kevin Orangers, director of educational engagement and innovation at the new center, told Technical.ly. “The one-hour virtual missions are delivered in real-time and emphasize teamwork and collaboration between students. And the classroom adventures are developed by teachers for teachers, designed to be engaging STEM lessons in the classroom.”

The Montco center’s “flight directors” are Annalise Giuliani, program manager, and Anjuli Aker, program coordinator, who both have STEM education experience under their belts.

The center will also host summer camp programs, elementary school programs, professional development, teacher training and corporate missions. The goal of these programs is to spark ongoing interest in STEM fields for the students, which could lead to students pursuing STEM college degrees, internships, apprenticeships and careers, according to the org.

Challenger Center officials hold up a photo of the Challenger space crew.

MCCC and Challenger Center officials in the new Challenger Learning Center. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

The new center is actively pursuing partnerships with school districts and businesses in the area and is currently working with the Pottstown School District.

“We are open to collaborating with other organizations that will help provide this valuable programming to even more children in our area,” MCCC President Dr. Victoria Bastecki-Perez said via a spokesperson.

One of the goals for the Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown is to reach students in traditionally underserved areas and with create interest in STEM fields. The center hopes to reach approximately 7,000 students in the first year, with at least 50% of those coming from underrepresented and underserved student populations.

“At Montgomery County Community College, we’re proud of the role we play in connecting students of all ages to innovative and inspiring learning experiences,” Bastecki-Perez said. “Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown offers a state-of-the-art destination for kids throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania to discover a passion for learning and STEM skills through exciting space simulations and out-of-this-world educational experiences that directly connect to national science standards. [Much] gratitude is extended to the Pottstown School District for being our inaugural partner in this high impact endeavor.”

The center has been operating “test missions” throughout the summer, but is now officially open for school programs and to the public. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and teachers and school districts are welcome to start booking visits now.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Montgomery County Community College

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