Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Day on Crosswalk Duty

by Mr. Williamson

Every morning at 8:45 A.M. I leave the emails, accounts, simulators, and other Space Education Center issues to put on my “pumpkin suit”, - a florescent orange with pee yellow stripes safety vest. Another ‘hat’ I wear, that you may not be aware of, is that of a crossing guard. Every morning for eight years, I’ve welcomed the students of Central Elementary School at the corner of 100 East and 400 North. I sometimes stand and sometimes pace back and forth at the crosswalk trying to pass the 20 minutes with “Good mornings” to the students as they walk by and a few jolly waves at the cars. I’m not one who initiates the wave but I’ll always return one.
I get to see the seasons change over my 180 days on the street. I bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. Some days I hide from the Arctic wind behind my red and white umbrella. Other days it is hard to see the cars through the blowing snow. I’ve come very close to planting my face into the street because of icy roads - saved only by an entertaining step dance accompanied by frailing arms followed by an embarrassed expression and laughing children.
I volunteer for this morning responsibility. It is a gift to the teachers of Central School. Without having to do morning duty they can spend more time in their classrooms preparing lessons. I benefit as well. Without duty I would never leave the darkness of the cloistered world of a Space Center Director.
One morning last week, I had the job of greeting a new student to Central. My usuals had crossed and moved toward the building;
The three buddies - three third grade boys inseparable in friendship. They run down the hill hiding behind telephone poles and street signs. They call it the car game. You run when there are no cars and hide when you see one. Don’t worry if you don’t get it - it is a third grade thing.
Then there are the younglings - a kindergarten and second grade brother and sister who always have something from the dollar store to show me. I do my best to have an amazing comment for each treasure. Sometimes all they get is a ‘Interesting’, like last Tuesday when she showed me a dinosaur with a missing left leg. “Cheap Chinese rubbish,” I said. She didn’t understand so I said “Interesting”.
‘Silence’ is the girl that never responds to anything I say. She crosses stone faced. I know she is a Vulcan. She does a good job hiding her pointed ears but you can’t fool an old Star Trek fan.
My entire reason for living has changed from turning the Space Center into an international franchise into getting her to laugh. Start with big dreams but learn to accept small victories. The “Pack” is the gaggle of sixth grade girls that walk slowly down the hill. The reason for this crawl is to arrive just as the bell rings to avoid an additional two to three minutes of class time. They are my kind of people! Why spend more time in purgatory then required ;)
I can’t forget the “Sprinters”. They try to beat me to the crosswalk in the morning. They move slowly toward the crosswalk - watching for me to exit the school's doors. Suddenly I come into view. Their little legs sprint into action to beat me to the crosswalk . I let them win from time to time. I enjoy seeing their smiles extend from ear to ear.
One day last week, a different car pulled up on the opposite side of the street. A lady I didn't recognize, accompanied by a young girl, stepped from the car. I walked out into the empty street and belted out my usual "Good Morning". The lady smiled and responded with the usual reply. The little girl hesitated while looking me over carefully. She gave a smile that had that ‘Stranger Danger’ feel.
“It’s her first day here at Central,” the mom said.
“You’re new to our school?” I responded by bending over to speak directly to the girl.
“Yes,” she replied.
They walked onto the sidewalk and started toward the school. I turned back to the street and found my Vulcan approaching. I started thinking of something clever to say when I felt a tugging at my pant leg. I looked down and saw Central’s newest kindergartner looking up at me with big brown eyes.
Iths my firtht day at thchool!” she said with excitement. I looked up at her mom. She was smiling.
“Well, we are glad your here with us. You’ll love your new teacher,” I said in the sing song voice one uses with children.
“I’m five,” she continued completely oblivious to my last statement. At that, she released my leg and ran back to her mother. Hand in hand they entered the school.
It was a simple exchange of words but the meaning was profound. This young girl was embarking on a journey in life that would take years to complete. Pure excitement was reflected in her eyes. She loved being at school.
I thought how wonderful it would be if we could bottle that excitement and use it as the primary ingredient in the school lunch program. What a difference it would make.
Just then the Vulcan stepped up on the curb and passed me without a word. Her look was one of complete indifference. What had happened to her from kindergarten to whatever grade she was in? One day I’ll get her to laugh. There is nothing else that matters now. That which was - must be restored again! I am the Spirit of Education! I will find the lost and abandoned. I will recharge the lifeless and bring a spark back to imaginations in atrophy!
Or....... I’ll take off my pumpkin suit and go back to emails, accounts, phone calls, and the simulators.
Isn’t it great to have the ability and opportunity to make a difference? I’ll choose to make a difference.
That little girl created a memory that will help me work through the tough days.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Space Center News Update

By Mr. Williamson

The Space Center will return to business as usual on Monday. I enjoyed my Spring Break. I slept in most days to 6:30 A.M. which is unusual. I’m developing some pretty strange habits when I haven’t got one thousand things to accomplish in a day. Having a Friday evening off was something to be worshipped. At 7:00 P.M. on Friday I looked at the clock. I knew exactly where I would normally be at the start of an overnight camp. I would be sitting at the Sign In Table asking 45 students if their names were spelled correctly.
“Yes,” would be the normal response.
“Are you staying here tonight or going home?” would be my next question. Some campers don’t understand that question. I get that ‘are you stupid’ look. They are thinking that if this is an overnight camp why would you be asking that question? I don’t want to take the time to explain that some children go home to sleep.
“Are you staying here tonight or going home?” I ask again.
“Staying here,” is the normal response once they’ve put away the ‘I don’t understand’ look.
I find their names and check them off the list. “Take this set of rules and read them. When you finish return the paper to the desk. Keep your rank paper, You’ll be asked for it later. You can have a seat over there,” I say pointing to the stage steps. The campers rush to the steps to unite with their friends.
At 9:00 P.M. on Friday I looked at the clock once more. Normally my security walk would be finished by that time. I enjoy my walk around the school. The evening air is fresh and its quiet. The school is, for the most part, locked up tight. Occasionally I’ll find one of the trailer doors unlocked.
Most of the simulators would be well into their missions by 9:00 P.M. I take a minute at 9:00 P.M. and check the Magellan and Voyager to see if they have started. I want all simulators in flight by 9:00 P.M. and the Magellan and Voyager always push that rule. Sometimes their missions briefings go too long. Sometimes the kids took too long to train. Last Friday I was in bed at 10:30 P.M. During a camp I’d be still at my desk working at 10:30 P.M. At 11:00 P.M. I meet with the kids again and give them their snack.
At 11:30 P.M. I’m assigning the boys a place to sleep either in the Voyager or on the cots in the gym. I’m explaining the overnight rules. I’m showing them the fire exits. I reminding them where I sleep (on a pad on the floor in front of my desk in the Briefing Room) in case they need to find me during the night. I explain again where their two chaperons can be found in case of trouble. I request their help - explaining that if they let us sleep we will do a better job running the simulators for them in the morning. I’m turning down the lights at 11:40 P.M. Most of the time the boys will be good and go to bed.
At midnight I tell the staff to go to bed. The female staff go to their sleeping zone (or go home). The male staff usually sleep in the Odyssey or in the Magellan (or go home). I monitor the hallways for 20 minutes or so as the staff ready for bed. By 12:30 A.M. the halls of the school are empty. I go to my desk and collapse on my pad. I sleep lightly so I can respond to trouble. Some boys will bypass the chaperons and come to me if they’re sick, or have thrown up, or are homesick. Some wake me wondering where the school’s bathrooms are.
I’m up at 6:00 A.M. to clean up. Sometimes I need to make a quick trip to WalMart to pick up the donuts for breakfast. I get the staff up at 6:40 A.M. We have our Saturday Morning Staff Meeting at 7;00 A.M. and at 7:15 A.M. we wake the kids up.
You see how much I enjoyed my Friday night off!? It was awesome going to bed at 10:30 A.M. and sleeping in on Saturday morning.

We’ve Gone Digital!

I want to thank Sheila Powell, a teacher at the Space Center, for taking the Magellan, Voyager, and Odyssey’s training tapes home over the vacation to digitize them and burn them to CD. I’m moving our simulators from cassette tape training to CD or Mp3.
The Phoenix is currently training by Mp3 player. On Monday we open with most of the Voyager’s stations on Mp3 training. The Mp3 players are tricking to turn on. They don’t rewind so if the student misses something he must stop the player, raise his hand, and have us help.
It was revolutionary when we went from hand training to tape training fifteen years ago.
This next step will be more time saving then revolutionary. No more rewinding the tapes.
No more having tape players eat the tapes. No more using your finger to wind a tape that the machine nicely unwound for you. No more dealing with the cheap tape players.
Campers, look forward to digital training for your next visit to the Space Center.

Maintenance Update

Megan Warner gave up a large part of her Spring Break to work on the Phoenix. She came in and took apart the Phoenix’s bridge to deep clean and paint. Megan sets the example for all Set Directors on the proper way to care for a simulator.
Spenser R. has been hired as the Space Center’s Asst. Director of Maintenance. He will work with Kyle Herring’s direction. Spenser spent several hours tearing out the bunks in the Captain’s Quarters. The Voyager’s ceiling sprung a leak during the winter. Each time the snow melted the water would leak into the Captain’s Quarters. The ceiling and one wall was damaged. The roof was repaired a month ago.
Spenser found mold on the sheet rock when he checked the way last week - a result from getting soaked by the leaking roof. I ordered the wall and a part of the ceiling torn out and rebuilt. I don’t want a camper to have an asthma attack because of mold growing on the opposite side of a sleeping wall. Giving our campers and students a safe and clean environment is one of the Space Education Center’s primary goals.

Programming Update

Alex A, the Space Education Center's boy genius, was in during the Spring Break to work on the new Phoenix ship controls. He is getting close to the finish line. He promises the controls will be ready for beta testing in May and full deployment for the first summer camps. Thanks Alex for going the extra mile.

Let’s Get to Work

OK troops, the vacation is over. We have thousands of students and campers ready and waiting to come to the Center for their field trips, birthday parties, and camps. Let’s get back to work rested and excited to give them the best experience possible.
We are the only place in the world that does what we do. That can, at times, be a hindrance. Without competition there is no external source to motivate us to do a better job. To improve we must motivate ourselves. We must maintain and strengthen what we do right and change and adapt to fix what doesn’t work.
Self motivation requires more mental fuel than motivation from an outside source. Staff, remember coming to the Center when you were younger. Do you remember the excitement? Now, recreate that for the students coming to you.

Thanks to all,
Mr. Williamson

Monday, April 14, 2008

Space Education Center Volunteer Receives Lifesaving Honor Medal

One of our Space Education Center volunteers was awarded a rare honor for his brave actions last summer when he fought and wrestled off a large pit bull that was attacking his mother on their front porch.
"Only a handful of these awards are handed out each year (nationwide)," said Delyle Johnson, a local representative from Boy Scouts of America who presented Collin Jensen with the award during a court of honor. Jensen received the Lifesaving Honor Medal for "unusual heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self," according to the National Court of Honor. He was mowing a neighbor's lawn next door on the evening of July 21 when the young Scout saw the pit bull run into his yard and attack a small dog that a neighbor had entrusted his family to watch while she went on vacation.
"He screamed for help and I came running out the front door," his mother Andrea Jensen said. "The dog had already ripped open the underside of the little schnauzer and there was blood all over the porch." When Andrea Jensen bent over to help her son save the dog from the pit bull's bite it leapt at her, knocking her on her back, she said.
"The bites were on both of her hands and had broken the skin," Orem police stated in their report. Collin "punched, pulled and pushed the dog away" so his mother could get to her feet and retreat inside the house, she said. The dog, however, wasn't done and followed her.
Andrea Jensen said she slammed the dog in the door a few times while it attempted to burst in after her, she said. But her son "kept fighting; he just kept punching it the whole time so we could shut it out and escape."
Witnessing the bloody battle affected Collin Jensen's 7-year-old sister enough she had to receive counseling.
The award was a surprise for the Orem High junior.
Congratulations to Collin! This speaks highly of the type of individuals we have volunteering at the Space Center.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Space Education Center Takes a Vacation!

Hello Troops,
We’ve made it to Spring Break! There was joy throughout the land. I can’t describe how needed this vacation is for all of us at the Space Center. We’ve been working morning, noon and night running mission after mission trying to keep up with the demand. Crazy was one word used to describe it by one of the Flight Directors. I compared our numbers with last year and discovered we are running a record breaking season in attendance and missions run.
Most businesses would bless the increase but we aren’t most businesses. Our Center is run by one full time employee, a couple dozen part timers, and over one hundred volunteers - all busy with their own lives. Many are students with school pressures and teen age social lives
that require some of their attention. The 24 hour day can only be sliced into so many pieces. This increase brings in more money but perhaps not enough to compensate for the wear and tear on the employees and volunteers.
A message to my staff, Thank you for the time you give the Center. I know you could get a job almost anywhere else that pays more but you don’t. You realize that working here has some advantages - we are a really cool place and you work with tremendous people. You are a part of something not found anywhere else in the world but right here in Pleasant Grove. That keeps many of you here year after year. Our low turn over is a blessing to me. Running our simulators takes extensive training. It isn’t flipping burgers. A high turnover would lead to disruptions in service and that would lead to a lowering of quality.
So, in a nutshell we all need this vacation. Rest and do something completely different if you can. Let the batteries charge and come back a week from Monday ready to take the Center to the end of the school year.

Mr. Williamson

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Student's Dream Come True!

There is one satisfying benefit from seating students on the Voyager bridge as they ascend the spiral staircase - you hear their comments as they see the bridge for the first time. Some exclamations are worthy of repeat, if I could remember them. I'll hear something that brings a smile to my face and a rush of satisfaction and make a mental note to jot it down, only to forget a few minutes later. It is like my brain's files are full to overflowing and anything new I attempt to bulldoze in stays momentarily and then dissipates like a vapor to the wind. It is like George's wallet on Sienfield - for you fans of the show. You wonder if my mental stability parallels the condition of his wallet? Perhaps it does so think twice before pushing me too far.......... ;).
One sixth grader's comment a week ago found a resting place in the chaos of my thoughts. I want to share it with you.
"Oh my Gosh...... Oh my Gosh," he exclaimed as he slowly came up the stairs. His head turned from side to side taking in every aspect of the bridge. I was concerned that he would trip on the steps. He wasn't looking where his feet were going. The eye candy of the set was too much for his 11 year old nervous system.
"Oh my Gosh....... Oh my Gosh," he exclaimed as he stumbled right past me into the center of the bridge. I had my hand out to take his boarding pass but he didn't notice. Who was I anyway - some person?
"Oh my Gosh...... Oh my Gosh," he exclaimed as he centered himself under the 1/2 sphere on the ceiling and turned slowly - his arms semi-outstretched, resembling a pilgrim before the statue of his revered saint. I walked in front of him and asked for his boarding pass. He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.
"Your boarding pass," I asked.
"Oh my Gosh....... Oh my Gosh," he exclaimed as he held it in the general direction of my hand. I took it from him. I looked at it. Written under his name was his position, right wing power. I took him by the shoulders and pointed him in the right direction.
"You are in the last chair of this row," I said gently while pushing him toward the right wing knowing he needed the extra energy to get his legs to move. He got half way to his chair and stopped. He turned toward me and spoke with a religious fever rarely heard even in testimony meeting.
"I want you to know that this is what I've dreamed about my whole life! I've finally made it! I'm on a Starship! OH MY GOSH!"
Although reactions to the Space Center are rarely that emotional, 99% of first timers ascending the spiral stairs are very excited and a bit overwhelmed by what they see. Can you believe that of all places on the Earth, in the middle of Pleasant Grove, not Las Vegas, not Orlando, not New York City, London, or Los Angeles there are six starships ready to take children on edventures in the universe of wonder.
Sometimes the magic of the Space Center wears thin for those of us that see it daily. I find myself looking for and seeing the imperfections. I find myself on a quest to find ways to improve the Center and our programs and then becoming disillusioned when the obstacles of money and bureaucracy act as mountainous speed bumps in the road. At those times I reflect on my memory of students coming up the spiral stairs for the first time. I shake my head to clear my thoughts and then, once again, as in the beginning - I see the forest despite the trees.

Mr. Williamson