DOWNEY – A few weeks ago, the Downey City Council approved a measure to allow all students going to school in or residing in Downey to visit the Columbia Memorial Space Center for free.
I am very thankful to the Mayor and the City Council for their vision and support of this initiative. It directly furthers the mission of the Space Center, “to ignite a community of creative and critical thinkers,” transforming the building into an easily accessible gathering space for the children of Downey and lessening cost as a barrier for all students to take advantage of the Center’s unique resources.
However, the free student program also hits home to me, personally. It was a similar arrangement, which I took advantage of as a kid, that helped stoke my love of science, learning, creativity and the world around me.
I grew up in the Chicago area, with an abundance of world-class museums, including what many consider the first hands-on science museum in the country, the Museum of Science and Industry. Most charged an entrance fee, except for the Museum of Science and Industry. My family was not well off; when I was growing up, my dad worked as a laborer for a road construction company, which with Chicago winters made the work seasonal. My mom worked at a local school. Free access to the Museum offered our family a frequent day out, transforming the Museum into a valuable resource for both bonding as a family and learning.
Through the lessons of the Museum, which were gained mostly by walking its halls and interacting with its exhibits, I fell in love with the wonder and beauty of science, explored new ideas and exercised my creativity, gaining an appreciation for science as an expression of who we are as humans and how we see the world. Easy access to the Museum enabled this learning and affected my life.
Opening the Space Center for free to the students of Downey is deeply meaningful to me. I know the power places like the Space Center can have on young people and I am so thankful, proud and excited to be in a place that is offering all members of the next generation great learning experiences and the ability to make their own memories. Researchers estimate that as much as 95% of the science, technology, engineering and math knowledge people gain in a lifetime comes from informal learning organizations like the Space Center. That huge impact can only be made greater by opening the doors of these places to more audiences.
Years after my childhood memories, and totally unplanned, I wound up working for the Museum of Science and Industry. It was my first museum job. Once, after a program I was facilitating, a teacher remarked to me, “I love the Museum! It’s the City’s science lab.” I knew just how she felt. Being able to visit the Museum so often as a kid enabled me to see its unique place in the community and to feel ownership over it.
I hope that we at the Space Center can inspire the same in the students of Downey; that all of them can now use the Center as a hang out, a place to explore, a platform on which to experiment, a destination to bond with family and friends or whatever they want to make of it.
The Free Downey Student Program is running. It’s open to all students who attend schools in Downey or who reside in Downey, but may go to school elsewhere. To sign up, please visit the Space Center.
The first visit, when students register, is free for the entire family! Subsequent visits are free only to the student with a valid student card. To qualify, students must provide proof of residency in the City of Downey and/or school enrollment.
More information, including a list of accepted qualifying documents, can be found at the Space Center’s website, columbiaspacescience.org, or by calling (562) 231-1205.
Ben Dickow is president and executive director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center.