Astronomy Education

by | May 6, 2024 | Education, Nonprofit, Online Exclusives

Coastal Pender Rotary and Surf City Rotary join efforts on an astronomy project that benefits 6th-grade science students at Topsail Middle and Surf City Middle schools.

Sixth-grade science students at two area middle schools are enjoying a long list of new astronomy supplies, thanks to a grant idea and a collaboration honoring a late Rotary Club member. Each class now has astronomy globes, constellation maps, earth and moon models, and Dark Skys projectors, among other tools for learning more about their universe.

Dan Drake, with the Coastal Pender Rotary, says that the idea began as “an attempt by Coastal Pender Rotary to honor a late member, Les King, who was a school administrator, science teacher and avid astronomer.” After some research into potential projects, the group decided to fund a STEM astronomy project for 6th-grade science classes. STEM is the science, technology, engineering and mathematics program at each school.

Drake and the Coastal Pender organization reached out to Surf City Rotary to join them in the project, as the local middle schools are Topsail Middle and Surf City Middle.

“Surf City Rotary graciously agreed to donate funds in addition to the Rotary grant,” Drake says.

Surf City Middle School Cheryl Warren

They applied for a district grant and were awarded matching funds. Once the Rotary Astronomy Grant was funded by Rotary District 7730, Coastal Pender Rotary and Surf City Rotary, Drake went to work purchasing the items.

Jack Thies, with Surf City Rotary, explains that the organization funded $1,500 of the project total, “which enabled them to make it a larger one.” He says that the Surf City group was a satellite club of the Coastal Pender group and they still collaborate on quite a few projects throughout the year.

Thies says the timing of the project worked well to help the students get hands-on demonstrations to learn more about the recent solar eclipse. He cites one of the demonstration items as a model of the earth, moon and sun as being particularly helpful. “It was a time to talk about the eclipse,” Thies says. “They were better informed and could understand what was going on.”

The work to purchase the equipment began last fall when the grant was approved. Drake then researched teachers’ needs and wish list items, conducting interviews with teachers and principals to decide what they needed and what was available. He then researched companies that provided scientific supplies to schools. The entire grant had to be executed by March of this year.

Coastal Pender Surf City Rotary

Once the list was determined and items were secured and delivered to the schools, representatives from the two Rotary clubs were invited to visit and see the students using their exciting new astronomy tools. “The teachers were just as excited as the students,” Thies says. He observed that “as a group, students were building some of the robotic items provided. Made it a fun experience instead of only bookish.”

Drake adds that they “had a big lab day — showing us the equipment, students working on problems. They used flip charts and posters as well as booklets on different subjects.” He is excited that “some of the kids just really love this kind of stuff.”

The project total of $7,642 enabled the Rotary clubs to purchase astronomy lab equipment, home planetariums, dark sky projectors, chrome moon disks for the dark sky projectors, illuminated earth and moon models, robotics smart machines kits, constellation globes, flipcharts, celestial star globes and white 40” x 48″ 200 lb. corrugated pads.

Thies, a Rotary member for more than 20 years, describes the experience as a “rewarding, aha moment.”

Earth Rotation and the Sun

“Teachers have to fight for the tools of their trade as it is,” he says. “To be gifted these tools they can use, the reward to us was the appreciation they were expressing.”

Drake has been a Rotary member for about 10 years and says he is impressed with the science teachers at each school — Mike Dugan at Topsail Middle and Cheryl Warren at Surf City Middle. “They really know their stuff,” Drake says.

Now, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Coastal Pender Rotary and the Surf City Rotary, the inspiration of a former educator as well as the sweat equity each group put in the project, the 6th-grade science classes at both schools have the tools they need to get hands-on experience and a quality education in astronomy.

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at