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Cool Schools: Local teacher vying for $100,000 education grant to upgrade planetarium

SOUTH BEND, Ind. –

Inside Kennedy Academy in South Bend is a working planetarium that planetarium director and teacher Lisa Artusi is working to take to the next level.  

Artusi has worked in the planetarium for a few years, but before that she says she didn’t know much about the stars.

“Before even as an adult I will admit it was a struggle for me sometimes to find the Big Dipper or Leo the Lion or Orion or whatever it may be,” she said. 

But as she’s worked to use the planetarium as an education tool for students, she’s learned quite a bit.

That’s why she says she now has a passion to share the space with others in the community. 

“I think that this could do so much more than what we currently do, and I believe that we will,” said Artusi. 

Currently the dome serves as a unique learning space for students across the South Bend Community School district. 

“It’s something that draws them in when they walk in the first time, especially if there’s music playing or if the lights are a different color,” said Artusi. “They just walk in with this big look of what am I going to do today, what am I going to learn, what am I going to experience?”

Principal of Kennedy Academy, William Waskom, says the planetarium provides unique resources to students in South Bend.

“It just means that they really have an opportunity to learn more about something that they would not be able to without this experience,” said Waskom.

But Artusi believes the space can do more for the community.

“I want to bring it up to date, up to speed for our students who come here to Kennedy,” she said. 

That’s why she submitted a proposal for the Farmers Insurance Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge. The educational grant will award five teachers across the nation with $100,000 to fund their proposals. Each proposal must include an idea that will create a lasting and positive impact in both the classrooms and the community. 

Artusi says when she received a call telling her she was one of 15 finalists for the grant she thought it was a joke. 

“I just could not believe it,” she said. “It was just way beyond what I ever thought was possible. I was crying. I immediately handed the phone to my husband and said ‘You cannot believe what just happened.’ It was just overwhelming to say I can’t believe that this dream could actually possibly come true.”

But those who have seen her work say they weren’t so surprised. 

“Her energy level is through the roof,” said Waskom. “I’m not at all surprised that she got this far.”

Artusi’s proposal includes a full dome experience in the planetarium which would utilize the entire dome and provide educational shows for the students. She also plans to purchase new seats and organize a laser light show for the community.

“We’re going to try to reopen it up even more so than what it currently is so that we can have families and adults and parents come in and see some amazing stuff,” said Artusi.

To win the $100,000 she’ll have to win more votes than her competitors.

 “I’m crossing my fingers, toes too, everything else, even my eyes if I could that this comes true for our students because I really believe that it is a great proposal. I think it’s a great challenge and I think it’s a great educational opportunity for our students,” said Artusi. “So dream big. We got this one.”

Voting can be cast online by clicking here. Adults are permitted one vote per email address every day. Voting stays open until November 3.

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