Bringing the Park to the Public in a Pandemic

Reach for the Stars is a unique collaboration between the Great Basin National Park Foundation and Great Basin National Park. We connect Great Basin National Park visitors, Great Basin youth, and anyone with access to the internet to Great Basin’s precious dark skies. Great Basin National Park is located in one of the last remaining dark sky places in the contiguous United States and is recognized as a Gold tiered International Dark Sky Park. Reach for the Stars shares the awe-inspiring view of the cosmos, as well as science, education and research, with the public through Park led astronomy programs, the Astronomy Festival, and elementary, middle, and high school outreach and education.

In a normal year we link students to Great Basin National Park through in person classroom presentations. After COVID-19 began in March 2020 we needed to creatively pivot our program delivery. We started by creating new lesson plans specifically designed to be used in the new teaching environment which had abruptly migrated to either completely online or a hybrid of online and in-person.

A positive outcome of the pandemic was that teachers and students were engaging in new ways with technology in the classroom. This provided a great opportunity for us to introduce interactive digital lessons that engaged students rigorously and supported learning in new ways. After creating 9 homeschool lessons and 11 digital lessons, we learned from feedback that these lessons were very interactive and well received by educators.

In total, during the 2020-2021 academic year we reached 16 classrooms and over 300 elementary and middle school students with virtual classroom programs, 1,150 individuals and families through virtual events, and 54 educators through a virtual training. We also inducted 5 high school educators into our pilot Great Basin Observatory high school research program. This GBO high school educator cohort is now meeting twice a month to review the materials being created to support GBO high school research on double star systems that will begin in the fall.

We are very excited that a Great Basin Observatory planetarium film on Great Basin dark skies is near completion. The short planetarium film will be used to introduce students and families in Nevada and Utah to their uniquely special dark skies. Besides showcasing the Great Basin Observatory, the film explains why Great Basin night skies are under threat from increased light pollution and explains how we can all make a difference to preserve them.

In fact, all of our outreach and education efforts underscore a common theme: that through the connection to Great Basin National Park, science, and the beauty of a clear dark sky, we can choose to preserve our unique and beautiful resources for present and future generations.

An additional benefit of connecting virtually this year is that it broadened our ability to reach new audiences and support Great Basin National Park Foundation’s newly adopted commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are excited to report that we introduced over 180 non-white diverse students to Great Basin National Park through virtual classroom programs so far in 2021. These students had never heard of the Park, considered that dark skies are important to wildlife and human health, or felt a connection to darkness. Through our programs, students learned about stars, constellations, and why darkness matters to ecosystems, scientific exploration, and our greater connection to the universe.

 We are so grateful for the support and partnerships that made our 2020-2021 Reach for the Stars outreach and education possible.

Thank you to the Cashman Family Foundation, Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership, Jack Van Sickle Foundation, George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Willard L. Eccles Foundation, Robert S. and Dorothy J. Keyser Foundation, Nevada Humanities, NV Energy Foundation, and the National Park Trust.