Ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony to honor Donald Bloom and Robert Meyer, former East Lyme High School teachers and planetarium directors.

On Saturday, March 16, STARS to STEM (S2S) celebrated “A Day Among the STARS” at East Lyme High School. The day included space-themed activities, food trucks, live music, free planetarium shows and a very special ribbon cutting and dedication that was seven years in the making. Read on to learn more about the special planetarium and the group of individuals who banded together to save it.

A grassroots, non-profit organization, S2S has worked diligently to restore the wonders of space-age education with the revitalization of the planetarium at East Lyme High School. The group’s mission is to foster love and excitement of scientific learning for the youngest to the oldest citizens, enriching the community as we inspire all to reach for the stars.

“Our goal is to provide STEM educational experiences to 10,000 southeastern Connecticut residents and visitors by the end of 2025!” said STARS to STEM President Diane Swan.

Following NASA’s space missions in the late 1960s, thousands of school districts proposed a new concept for a classroom setup – a full dome planetarium. In 1972, East Lyme High School devoted its building’s addition to that goal, installing a state-of-the-art planetarium dome for the students of East Lyme.

“The planetarium has been part of East Lyme High School since its inception,” said Swan. “The East Lyme community voted for a planetarium over a pool as part of the first addition to the school, which celebrated its first graduating class in 1969.”

For more than 40 years, the planetarium inspired and awed many students, but eventually closed due to lack of upgrades and improvements. Although most of the obsolete equipment was dismantled and furniture removed, the remaining dome-shaped space remained.

In 2016, Swan, a teacher and Niantic Center School’s science coordinator, learned of a plan to repurpose the space as a resource room. Alarmed by that possibility, Swan was determined to save the planetarium and re-imagine it as a 21st-century learning center.

In 2017, Swan and Andy Pappas, a leader in bringing the Niantic Boardwalk and Niantic Children’s Museum to fruition, approached the East Lyme Board of Education (BOE) and proposed that the planetarium remain as-is while they develop a plan to restore and upgrade it. Within the next few months, more community members joined the cause, and STARS to STEM was born. The all-volunteer group worked tediously to develop a business plan to rebuild and operate the facility independent of taxpayer’s funds.

“Our efforts paid off!” said Swan. “The Board of Education unanimously agreed to keep the dome intact and delay repurposing the room until STARS to STEM could raise enough funds to complete the renovation.”

In December of 2023, the BOE entered into an agreement with S2S to allow the non-profit to utilize the planetarium space for the next five years, with the option to extend it in years beyond.

STARS to STEM has a lot planned for spring! The organization will have five shows on Saturdays from April 27 to June 8. (No show on 5/25 due to the Memorial Day weekend.) The shows will run at: 10am (neurodivergent children and adults), 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm. Cost is $10 per person.

STARS to STEM will collaborate the East Lyme Senior Center, East Lyme Parks and Recreation Department, East Lyme Public Library, East Lyme Senior Center, East Lyme Board of Education to offer the show “Totality” on April 6 at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm. This 25 minute show will showcase the rarity of a total solar eclipse, a phenomena that occurs as the moon passes between the Sun and Earth and completely blocks the face of the sun. The show will allow audiences to learn how eclipses happen, how to safely view them and where the upcoming 2024 eclipse will take place. S2S will be providing informational flyers for the “Total Solar Eclipse” event on April 8 at the East Lyme Public Library.

In addition, S2S will have their first “Planetarium Performance” on April 26 from 7-10pm! Local musicians will perform as videos will be projected onto the planetarium dome. This event is free of charge, but is limited to 30 people. Reservations can be made by contacting secretary@starstostem.org.

Lastly, S2S regional planetarium will be honoring nurses and educators during the month of May. S2S, Inc. will offer free admission to nurses and educators who pre-register by contacting secretary@starstostem.org. (Admission is free for nurse/educator only, additional patrons are $10 per person).

For more information on STARS to STEM and to see a list of planetarium programming, visit starstostem.org or follow them on Facebook.

 

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