The University of Chicago News Office
Dec. 1, 1996 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

From the South Side to the South Pole:

A Chicago high school student’s Christmas in Antarctica

While some children fantasize about North Pole activity this time of year, one student in the University of Chicago’s Space Explorers program is preparing for the realities she will encounter on her trip to the opposite end of the globe–the South Pole.

Seventeen-year-old Jameene Banks, a senior at Hyde Park Career Academy in Woodlawn, will travel to the South Pole over the Christmas holiday with Arlene Sharp, sixth-grade science teacher at John Foster Dulles elementary school in Woodlawn.

“I don’t know what to expect when I get to the Pole, but I know that I’ll have a completely different outlook on a number of things–the weather, for one," Banks said, laughing.

Their trip is sponsored by the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica–a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center managed by the University of Chicago. Banks and Sharp are participants in Space Explorers, CARA’s science outreach program for high school students.

“What we’re trying to do by giving Jameene and Arlene this opportunity is to get younger kids, especially African-American kids, to see that this–science–is something they can do,” said Larry Hawkins, Director of the University of Chicago’s Office of Special Programs, which oversees the Space Explorers program. “The goal is to get more kids to look at science as something that can be useful to them. And if it’s a sister or a friend who is communicating with them, I think it sharpens the experience.”

Hawkins is arranging for Banks to speak at schools, churches and community groups when she returns in January.

One of the things Banks is most looking forward to is finally seeing the place she’s been learning about for four years. Space Explorers learn about astronomy through CARA’s telescopes at the South Pole and communicating with scientists who are working down on the ice. “I’m looking forward to seeing the projects in operation and actually seeing and interacting with people I’ve communicated with by e-mail,” Banks said.

In addition to academics, Banks plays varsity volleyball on a team that competed in the semifinals of the city tournament this year and spends time teaching elementary school students about astronomy, using Adler Planetarium’s portable Starlab.

“This kind of community outreach is very important to me,” she said. “I use myself as an example for the younger students so that they will be confident enough to pursue what they want. I try to be a role model.”

Sharing the experience

Sharp’s 6th-grade science class at Dulles is eagerly anticipating “Miss Sharp’s” trip to the Pole. Sitting quietly at attention during an Antarctic slide show, politely asking questions, the students erupted when Antarctic clothing was passed around. Gleefully trying on the 40 pounds of Antarctic gear provided to each Antarctic-bound traveler–including a heavy down parka, “bunny” boots, fleece pants, and insulated mukluks–they cavorted around the classroom and snapped photos of Sharp dressed for the ice.

Sharp, in addition to teaching full time at Dulles, comes twice a week after school to the University and Adler Planetarium to work with high school students in the Space Explorers program. She also teaches astronomy to sixth, seventh and eighth-graders at the University on Saturday mornings. Sharp plans to design lessons for her students on world geography, science and math, and will videotape her journey.

Banks and Sharp will leave Chicago Dec. 15, traveling first to Christchurch, New Zealand, and, after a short layover, by C-130 to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. McMurdo is operated by the National Science Foundation as a base station for scientific research in Antarctica. From McMurdo, they will enjoy a three-hour flight by ski-equipped C-130 over the Trans-Antarctic mountains to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. They are scheduled to be at the Pole for Christmas, arriving Dec. 21 and returning to McMurdo five days later.

At the Pole they will work with University astronomers and engineers and will see CARA’s southern base in operation.

The Space Explorers program is the result of a unique partnership between Chicago Public Schools, the University, Adler Planetarium and CARA. The program is designed to give students from Chicago Public Schools a greater understanding of and appreciation for science.

Participants in the Space Explorers program extend their school day and academic experiences by attending classes after school and on Saturdays at the University. In weekly sessions, they study the stars while learning basic math, science and writing skills, working with faculty members and graduate-student volunteers. In addition, they spend 10 days each year at the University’s Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., using the observatory’s telescopes and conducting research projects.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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