June 2011 Front Porch
When Charles Raisch, principal of Stapleton’s Swigert-McAuliffe K-8 International School, learned of an opportunity to enhance a playground sunshade, he did not hesitate to act on the prospect of making the structure both a working art piece as well as a teaching tool. As a former science teacher, Raisch knows all too well that children learn and appreciate science, math and technology best when the teaching is interactive.
A collaboration between the new school’s landscape architect, Raisch and artists Khabir and Ceri Salahadyn from North Park Hill’s The Collaboratory has led to the construction of a one-of-a-kind sunshade and learning opportunity. The structure will serve a dual purpose. First, it will shield youngsters from the sun. Second, it will illuminate the patterns of the seasonal zodiac constellations, visible to the naked eye only after dark.
The steel dome-shaped sunshade is 15 feet in diameter and 48 feet in circumference. The dome itself is 7.5 feet in height. It will sit on six 9.5-foot columns in the school’s south-facing play area. Drilled through the sun-colored yellow dome are holes patterned after of the zodiac constellations found in the night sky. As the sun travels overhead, its rays pass through holes, outlining the stars that make up these 12 constellations. The steel structure will ultimately stand 17 feet tall and accommodate as many as 40 students under its circular canopy. The design of this authentic working art form began in January, and the installation of the 5,000-pound structure will take place in early June.
From within the dome, students will study how the sun travels along an ecliptic path around our sky during the course of a calendar year. They will learn about the constellations that intersect this path, appreciate our solar system and the changes in our seasons. They will come to better understand where they stand within the universe. And, if time allows, they may even learn some Greek mythology too.
Surely that would make astronauts Jack Swigert and Christa McAuliffe feel rather proud, knowing that their school is inspiring our naturally inquisitive youth to learn in a unique way.