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GENERATION'S FIRST STEP

Challenger K8's media center will introduce students to the first moon landing.

Burning fuel appears to be guiding a lunar landing module to its landing site right in the middle of Challenger K8 media center's front counter.

The fire is actually reddish-orange cotton, seemingly escaping from the bottom of a small, but impressive-looking module replica.

There are other referrals to the American space program throughout the media center. Those include rockets, one of which is 10 feet long. A large paper meteor is in a far corner. Copper-colored paper asteroids hang across the room forming an asteroid belt. A space station and a GPS satellite also appear to float below the ceiling.

A helmeted simulation of astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping on the surface of the moon comes straight out of a bulletin board, jutting sideways into the room.

The decor commemorates the 40th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing, the theme that media specialist Debbye Warrell plans to use throughout this school year.

Warrell remembers being glued to her television as the historic moment occurred. She worries that the space program is becoming mundane to current students.

"We were riveted to the TV," she said. "I want to bring that back."

She spent time during the summer working on that goal. "I planned a unit this summer," she said. "I'll be doing different activities that tie in with space."

Warrell, the media specialist and the 2006-07 Hernando County Teacher of the Year, also teaches video production.

She began her project with help from seventh-grader Jennifer Sniffen. Jennifer took what she had researched about space and made a public service announcement using the models in the media center and a computer movie-making program.

Challenger computer graphics teacher Maryann Prescott and her husband, Marc Prescott, the school's plant operator, have supported Warrell's efforts. They spent hours over the summer creating the vehicle models that dominate the media center ceiling.

"We looked around to see what we had in the barn," Maryann Prescott said. They bought other materials. "We had a good time," she said. "We love doing this."

In the media center recently, Warrell ran off and donned a flight suit, complete with a helmet, just before a kindergarten class arrived. She was ready when they got there and read Hedgie Blasts Off by Jan Brett to them.

To excite the children further about space, she let two children come forward and try on the helmet. Their little heads were nearly lost in it, and the children loved it.

Cameron Crossley, 6, was in that class. He said he especially liked the model of the lunar landing module. He says he likes learning about planets, astronauts and stars.

Kennedy Weissman, 5, also chose the landing module as her favorite, and shared a few things she knows about space, "That if you stay there too long without food, you can die," she said.

Maia Truog, 6, particularly liked the Neil Armstrong figure coming out of the wall and is interested in space aliens. "They go to space to see the planets," she said.

By the end of the year, Warrell expects her younger students, grades kindergarten through second, to have produced class-level books. The third- through fifth-graders will have made movies or PowerPoint presentations illustrating what they have learned about space.

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