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Enthusiasm for science ran high for some 65 fifth-graders from Marshall Elementary Magnet School Wednesday as soon as they got off the bus in front of Lowell Observatory's Steele Visitor Center.

The Marshall students joined their teachers, FUSD administrators, and Lowell staff for a special astronomy program and announcement of a partnership between the Flagstaff public schools and the Observatory: one that allows all fifth-grade students in the Flagstaff Unified School District to attend Lowell for free.

Wednesday's field trip was one in a series of special school trips that have taken place or are scheduled between January and spring break this year. Lowell advisory board member Bob Ayers sponsored this program through the Robert Ayers Sciences Fund.

"We targeted fifth-graders since that's the grade level at which they study and focus on astronomy the most," said Kevin Schindler, Lowell's outreach manager.

Brief program remarks were made before the energetic Marshall students participated in a Cosmic Cart presentation about conditions on other planets, including planet Mercury, given by Lowell educator Lorrie Whorton.

Marshall teachers participating included Dottie McCann, Kim Bull and Jessica Hurley. Marshall principal Stacie Zanzucchi and interim FUSD superintendent Barbara Hickman also made the trip up Mars Hill for the program. Lowell director Eileen Friel spoke about her experience in getting interested in science in school and she described the motivation for this collaboration and sponsorship by Mr. Ayers.

"This kind of field trip is exactly what we want to do to combine classroom academic instruction with hands-on experiences that spark students' interest in astronomy," said Hickman.

During her remarks, Hickman asked the Marshall students to think of four questions, new things they were thinking of and wondering about after their visit. She asked students to include those questions in thank-you letters to Mr. Ayers for making these field trips possible.

After the indoor Cosmic Cart program in Lowell's Giclas Lecture Hall, students got a tour of the historic Clark Telescope and spent time learning astronomy in the exhibit hall and science center section of the Lowell visitor center.

"What teachers yearn for is that 'a-ha' moment, when a child gets this spark and says 'that's so cool,'" McCann said. "Hopefully, this type of activity will help inspire them in science."

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