Traveling Planetarium Visits St. Clair, Clinch Schools | Education

BULLS GAP – Having a planetarium, will travel.

This could be the nickname of retired NASA scientist Billy Hix. Thanks to him and a request from St. Clair Elementary Librarian Rachel Horton, the Hawkins County School near Bulls Gap received a visit to the planetarium last week.

Hix also visited Clinch School, a pre-K-12 facility in Hawkins County, on October 21, after teacher Britteny Rhoton applied from there.

The two Hawkins schools are among 10 to 12 rural schools he visits each year, although these were delayed from last year after COVID-19 issues last year.

On Wednesday, October 20, students from grades 2 to 5 at St. Clair Elementary School “had the opportunity to visit a planetarium in their own school’s gymnasium,” according to principal Mary Ann Davis.

The inflatable planetarium looks like a sort of jump house, but inside the gym floor was the base of the inflatable plastic sphere that Hix projected stars, constellations, galaxies, and planets onto.

“It was just an opportunity for our students. We would never see anything like it, ”Davis said, adding that the selected students would get a“ reward ”trip to the Bays Mountain Park Planetarium in Kingsport in the spring if COVID-19 conditions permit.

“It was in depth,” said Davis, adding that he was also aligned with the scientific standards that young students are expected to achieve as they progress through their studies.

“This traveling planetarium is provided by Hix as part of a Tennessee STEM Innovation Network program. Mr. Hix and his wife go to rural schools and have an educational program inside the planetarium, ”Davis said. It is free for the chosen schools.

Hix grew up in rural Tennessee and travels around Volunteer State with his third mobile planetarium: his first was too small, his second was worn out and his third is the last, he said, according to his wife.

“I visit about 80 schools a year,” Hix said, adding that he has served over 72,000 students since he started.

“They saw how beautiful the cosmos is and how cool it is to be smart,” Hix said, adding that he was still the least intelligent person in the NASA room. “Everyone I worked with was smarter than me. It is the most pleasant feeling.

He said Clinch is one of the few schools he has served where high school students have attended.

“You’ll see kids and teachers hanging onto the ground or swinging from side to side,” said Hix, who has researched astronomy for NASA and has trained astronauts on the equipment. 1979 to 2000, then took some time to care for his father and teach science teachers in college. He always worked summers with NASA but finally retired for good in 2007 – except he is still “the solar system ambassador” for NASA.

He joked that it could mean he would be the first human to feed aliens if they showed up at Earth’s gates.

Librarian Horton heard about this opportunity through the Tennessee Rural STEM Collaborative Cohort she participated in during the 2020-2021 school year. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Out of 30 hours of professional development, she said one hour was with Hix, which prompted her to apply for the planetarium program.

The school has about 170 students from Kindergarten to Grade 5, but only about 120 students from Grades 2 to 5 participated in the planetarium program.

“It took about 45 minutes with each group,” Horton said of six groups of students who took the program.

“A lot of them wanted to go back and start over,” Horton said. “They were really excited.”

Hix said her rural school near Lynchburg, Tennessee, Moore County teaches students to be good farmers or farm wives – but never go to college because it makes you too much. liberal.

He got his only paddle in fifth grade for saying he planned to go to work for NASA after going to college. That was about 55 years ago, as the United States prepared to send men to the moon. He went to Tennessee Tech and eventually got other college courses, working for NASA during the space shuttle days.

He lives in Bedford County, near Shelbyville, and has an observatory on his property.

“I’m just doing this because I wanted someone to do it for me,” Hix said of his mobile planetarium.

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Arline J. Mercier

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