For more than 40 years, the Fairfax County School Planetariums have served more than 16,000 elementary school students each year. In recent years, every fourth and sixth grade class in our school district has the opportunity to experience the excitement of astronomy through an instructional field trip to one of our planetariums.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, the FCPS planetariums are on hiatus due to budget constraints. Although FCPS is no longer providing funding for field trips, most of our facilities continue to be used for high school instruction. Some planetarium/astronomy teachers may be able to provide presentations on a limited basis. For further information about a planetarium field trip please contact Steve Brown at the Woodson Planetarium.
The launch of the Soviet Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, prompted the US government to pass the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958. NDEA provided funds for states to improve instruction in science, mathematics, language, English, reading, history, civics, and geography. The federal program provided matching funds to school systems.
In 1960, science supervisor Dr. Charles Davis informed the new Division Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, Earl Funderburk, that the school board was considering building a planetarium. Mr. Funderburk had been active as a civic fund raiser to build the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and so immediately approved the concept. Dr. Davis applied for the NDEA funds, and in the fall of 1961, the school board approved inclusion of planetaria in two high schools which were being built at the time, Woodson High School and Edison High School. It was decided to include a planetarium in the design of each new high school, and a total of nine were constructed from 1961 to 1969, when Mr. Funderburk was superintendent.
Fairfax County now has the greatest concentration of planetaria in the United States except for Dallas, Texas, and serves as a model and a resource to many other school-based planetaria around the nation.
Sandburg Middle School and Hayfield Secondary School have Spitz A4 instruments and the remaining seven schools have Spitz A3P projectors. All domes are 30 feet in diameter except for the Edison High School planetarium, the first to be installed, which has a 24 foot diameter dome.
Learning features the Herndon High Planetarium.
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February 19, 2013