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The following article appeared March 10, 2003 in the


"Businessman donates science gear to Pines school that lost shuttle experiment"

By Karla D. Shores
Education Writer
Posted March 10 2003

    In scientific terms, it's called magnetism. In middle school science class, it's a study of how students' passion to learn can draw national recognition and attention from state and local science buffs.

    When the space shuttle broke up in the atmosphere Feb. 1, Pembroke Pines Charter middle school students watched as they lost their crystal formation experiment aboard Columbia.

    After seeing the students' intense attraction to their experiment, a Boca Raton businessman began sending boxes of science equipment to the school, positioning it to have one of few middle-school classrooms to house what will become a state-of-the-art Science Center. A state-run technology group followed suit, offering to help maintain students' interest in science through funding and in-kind donations.

    Science teacher Barry Perlman is hesitant to glorify the school's new fortune, which will equal many college-level science labs when the center is completed next month. "You don't want to say it's a positive thing because of what happened," Perlman said.

    But the shuttle tragedy is what brought national television crews to Pembroke Pines Charter. Students from several elementary schools collaborated to send an experiment aboard Columbia, but Perlman said Pembroke Pines Charter was the only one to send up its own experiment individually. "We wouldn't have this science center without having done this project," he said.

    Boca Raton businessman Richard Newman, owner of High-Tech Productions, had planned a partnership with the school after learning the students sent up a crystal experiment on the shuttle. But after learning the students lost the experiment, he stepped up the process to start a science center. "I wanted to help them overcome the tragedy, move forward, and continue education and research in space exploration. It was really in the talking stages, and then the shuttle tragedy happened. It further inspired me to get this up and running."

    So far, the collection given to the charter school is worth $6,000, said Newman, who continues to ship items to the school. Now the eighth-graders watch every day as Perlman opens a new box of gifts and stores them behind locked doors.

    In April, Perlman and some of his students will display the equipment -- 10 Geiger counters, a fossil collection, geodes, computerized telescopes, a lightning detector and weather station -- in one of the school's classrooms, creating a semiprofessional science center.

    Seventh-grader Ryan Burney, who was the lead investigator for the crystal experiment, said he hopes the center will get more of his peers interested in science. "This will be a great benefit not only to science class in the school but to the overall interest in science in the school," said Burney, 13, who plans to pursue rocket science in college. "The fact that this man is giving something so expensive to the school out of generosity is very interesting."

    Perlman said he was astounded by the number of Geiger counters the school received. Schools are lucky to have one to share. This school will have enough to conduct a lab.

    Four other science teachers and the school's 600 students in grades six through eight will use the center extensively, Perlman said, because the school's focus has always been technology and science. The private sector isn't the only group reaching out to the school. The Technological Research and Development Authority, approved by the Legislature in 1987, also is interested in helping build the school's science center. Michelle Peters, education director for the authority, said the group is open to the needs of the school, including paying for projects and donating more materials for future science projects. "Our goal is to assist these students in whatever capacity we can to get their experiments up and running," Peters said. "We really just want to help the kids."

    Science teacher Juanita Farmer said the publicity and generosity from science lovers will help the school's science department enhance its curriculum, even as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test starts to focus more on physical science. "I hope it adds to the hands-on things we can do," Farmer said. "I don't think many schools can do this unless they have a great deal of funds because of the budget cuts. These things are going to help out the school tremendously."

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