The timing couldn’t have been better. Four days after NASA’s InSight Mars craft touched down on the Red Planet, the “Marsville — A Cosmic Village” program made its debut Friday at the Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center, 1427 W. Rio Grande St.
The Marsville program, developed by the Challenger Center for Space Science, a nonprofit education organization located in Washington D.C., is designed to help students develop skills in problem solving, critical thinking and communications.
“It’s a cooperative learning project, traditionally used by middle schools and high schools,” said Jeffrey Comfort, school principal at the Zebulon Pike Center. “It’s been a very positive program nationally, and it’s worked really well in correctional types of environments.”
The Zebulon Pike Center is a secure treatment facility for male juvenile offenders who have committed various crimes, including violent offenses, property crimes and/or sexual offenses. The center offers a safe environment, and its education program includes classroom instruction, GED preparation and vocational programs. Most of the current 39 students are 15 to 17 years old; the youngest is 13, the oldest 20. The average incarceration is about 14 months.
“The Marsville program is an outside-of-the-box, creative learning experience,” said Dan Beilfuss, Zeb Pike’s director. “It’s different from being told, ‘You need to do this and you need to do that.’ Our kids have high needs, and when they get a chance at something like this, they thrive.”
Marsville envisions a time about 100 years in the future when mankind is attempting to inhabit Mars. Students are tasked with creating a government, a communications system, and science-based solutions to problems like producing food, generating oxygen and designing a waste management system.
The Zeb Pike students designed and built plastic bubble “habitats” in the center’s gymnasium that centered around the themes of maintaining life on mars, including air and water supplies, water management, temperature control, transportation, food production and communication. Visitors, which included parents and staff members, toured the habitats as about 16 of the center’s 40 students explained the various concepts presented in each of the plastic bubbles.
Planning for the Marsville project began several months ago when every Thursday at the Zebulon Pike Center was designated “Marsville Day” and all the classes worked on the project.
“All the teachers were involved,” said Karin Pappadakis, an English teacher. “The students learned a lot about cooperative learning and about building various systems, including communications and government. And it was great that NASA’s Mars landing happened at this time because our students have really been interested in learning all about Mars.
“And it’s been a lot of fun.”
The decision to use the Marsville — A Cosmic Village concept at Zebulon Pike Center was made by Comfort, who had previously used it at the Youthful Offender System of the Colorado Department of Corrections. He learned about the program when he had the opportunity to meet former astronaut Kent Rominger, a veteran of five space flights, who recommended the program.
“It’s been a very positive program,” Comfort said. “It involves a lot of creativity, and that’s what these kids need. They need to get hooked on learning and to get reinvested in learning. Once they do that, then they get hungry (to learn) and then we see good things happen.”
Beilfuss agreed. “It’s a chance for them to really be creative. And once they get out of Zeb Pike, they’re going right back into the community. The more we can do here to prepare them, the better. And this program is just one more way we can do that.”
Construction of the habitats were under the supervision of teacher Chris Roberts and a team of students that included Tashon, Dimitri, Guillermo, Donivan, Jacob and Christopher. The student’s last names are withheld for confidentiality.
Teachers in charge of the habitats were Chris Bates, Karin Pappadakis, Jen Woodruff and Janette Hudson. Students who participated in the habitat tours by providing information included Logan, Kaedon, Charles, Joshua, Christopher, Gabriel, and Anthony.