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Former Charles County School Superintendent James E. Richmond said Tuesday that words could not express how excited he was to see his vision of a science center complete with a digital classroom come to fruition.
The James E. Richmond Science Center at St. Charles High School in Waldorf officially opened Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The center, which has a science on a sphere — a large interactive globe that can show hundreds of data sets, including real-time satellite images — was part of a vision for a planetarium and “futures center” Richmond had for Charles County students.
Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill said in a speech Tuesday that Richmond initially planned in the 1990s to have the futures center at the site of the old Glasva School, though costs of renovations were too costly.
Not giving up on the vision, Hill said Richmond again brought the idea to life in the early 2000s, this time picturing the center on the campus of North Point High School, where the Charles County Hospice House stands today.
Hill said the idea did not go over well, and the plan was abandoned but not forgotten as long as Richmond could help it.
“Many people would have given up,” Hill said. “Jim Richmond did not give up.”
In 2005, Richmond began forming relationships and ultimately valuable partnerships with CISCO and the Space Foundation.
Partnerships with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA are among other partnerships the school system has.
Richmond’s vision expanded with the help of the partnerships and state leaders to include not a planetarium, but a digital classroom — a multiuse dome theater featuring high-resolution, 3-D computer graphics and surround sound.
Amy Hollstein, assistant superintendent for instruction, said with the use of the center, Charles County students will have a rare opportunity that many public school students don’t have, and that opportunity is “right in their backyard.”
Hill thanked Richmond for “never letting naysayers get in the way.”
The center, she said, “is going to change the way our children and our community understand the world and the universe around us.”
Charles County Public Schools is the only public high school to have both a science on a sphere and a digital classroom, school officials said. There are 110 science on a sphere installations around the country, and Christos Michalopoulos, deputy director for K-12 and informal education with NOAA, welcomed the school system to the network.
Michalopoulos said the center will produce long-lasting benefits for decades to come by offering world-class education to students, teachers and the community.
Michalopoulos said an NOAA scientist first invented science on a sphere as a way for scientists to visualize and understand how our planet works by looking at complex data sets.
He said soon after, the educational value of the sphere became apparent.
The sphere is used in universities, museums, science centers, national parks “and now K-12 schools.”
Michalopoulos said St. Charles High School is the first public high school to have a sphere.
Michalopoulos said students and teachers as well as the community will have access to more than 450 data sets that are constantly being updated.
Many current and past public school educators attended the opening along with local and state officials including State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery. Special guests also included representatives of NOAA and the Space Foundation along with an astronaut, Leroy Chiao, who spoke earlier in the day during one of the school system’s regularly scheduled space exchange luncheons.
Richmond dedicated the opening to former Deputy Superintendent Ronald Cunningham and former Charles County Board of Education member Donald M. Wade, both of whom died before seeing the vision become a reality.
Richmond said this program “will continue way beyond today, and hopefully the students will originate original work and develop interesting things for people to see and view. As we look at the universal concept, education can be changed if people dare to change it. It’s not about money. It’s about what’s in your heart, what’s in your mind and your passion to do it.”
Richmond said there will always be people out there willing to make partnerships to make things happen, and he thanked all those who helped make the science center a reality.
“I owed it to the children of this county to do that,” he said about reaching out and creating partnerships with CISCO, the Space Foundation and many others.
Richmond said the system was fortunate to have support of the county commissioners, and “we can’t move forward without them.”
He said, “I know they will do everything they can to push the envelope for children.”
Guests had an opportunity to see a demonstration of the capabilities of the digital classroom and the sphere. Guests also got to try out some hands-on activities that can go along with lessons learned at the science center.
Looking around at the finished science center within the recently finished St. Charles High School, former Assistant Superintendent of Construction Charles Wineland said, “this really is a dream that came true.