2007 ASP Annual Award Recipients
Arizona Department of Corrections
Eagle Point School, USA
The Thomas Brennan Award, founded by astronomy enthusiasts Terry and Cindy Brennan in memory of Terry's father, recognizes exceptional achievement related to the teaching of astronomy at the high school level.
It would be difficult to find someone more deserving of that recognition than the 2007 winner Mr. Kenneth Zeigler, astronomy teacher at the Eagle Point School of Buckeye, Arizona.
The Eagle Point School, operated by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, is a secure facility for boys aged 13-18. It is a school behind razor wire and high fences, intended for the most difficult and troubled young men of Arizona. Over 50% have learning or emotional disabilities. Thought by some to be "throw-away" kids destined for the adult prison system, Eagle Point students are truly the neediest of the needy.
Mr. Zeigler's dedication to these students is awe-inspiring, and his success in using astronomy to engage them in learning is a heart-warming lesson to us all. He began by resurrecting an unused computer lab, and soon had a working computer for each student. Before long, student vandalism of the computers was a thing of the past as peer pressure kept the lab safe and undamaged.
Next, he obtained a telescope and (with considerably more difficulty) obtained permission to allow students out of their housing units at night. Twice-a-week nighttime observing sessions are now the norm. Some of the students hadn't seen the inside of a classroom in years, and needless to say, their reading and study skills are mixed. Ken has developed his own astronomy curriculum based on PowerPoint modules that address many learning modalities. Each unit has attention-grabbing animations, written text with audio narration, and a music background track to help the students focus. Some students are now doing image processing and conducting experiments on original data using CCDOPS and Scion Image.
Ken teaches a science seminar class which may represent the highest success of the program. Seminar students conduct their own research and enter it into the school science fair. Some of the best projects have gone on to the regional fair. One student is studying the distribution of ground water on Mars by measuring the depths of the smallest craters that exhibit lobate ejecta blankets. Two others are determining the distance to the open star cluster M36 using spectroscopic parallax and CCD images.
Ken himself sums up the reason he works so hard. "For most students here, this is the last stop before entering the adult prison system. I want my kids to get off the train here. I want them to know there is another life that could be theirs on the outside."