Feature

City of Chicago Honors the Memory of Columbia Crew with Renaming of School
10.23.03
Chicago Academy Renaming Ceremony
Dr. Loston Participates in Chicago School Renaming Ceremony
At one Chicago school, teachers are no longer the only heroes who inspire students on a daily basis. With the renaming of Davis-Shields Elementary, the memory of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia lives on in the minds and hearts of hundreds of the city's youth.

Dr. Adena Williams Loston spoke at the dedication of the newly renamed Columbia Explorers Academy last month in front of an audience of nearly 1,000 students, as well as dozens of educators, dignitaries, and members of the community. The school, located in the heart of the Brighton Park community, was renamed in honor of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. Dr. Loston, the Associate Administrator of Education for NASA, was at the ceremony to express appreciation to the city of Chicago on behalf of the agency.

"Just as the Columbia crew represented a rich diversity, so too is our goal to engage educators, students, parents, and the general public through educational and outreach efforts in diverse communities across the country that will mirror the mosaic representation of our Nation just as the community of Brighton Park does," said Dr. Loston.

The Columbia Explorers Academy, renamed after Chicago City Council passed a resolution to do so on March 26, is the first pre-existing school in the nation to be formally named in honor of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. Its hallways are decorated with colorful bulletin boards with a space exploration theme, and a plasma screen TV greets visitors of the school with the story behind its naming. Columbia Elementary School, still under construction in Val Verde, California, was the first to adopt the Columbia name on March 10.

"The ultimate prize a person can achieve is to be an astronaut," remarked Jose Barrera, Principal of the Columbia Explorers Academy. "We felt that if we named this school after these fine people, it would inspire our students to strive to go all the way to the top." He went on to explain that, although the Brighton Park community is not characterized by affluence, its students should not be kept from their pursuit of great things. "Our children have dreams, too," continued Barrera, "and dreams must be number one."

The Great Lakes Naval Base Ceremonial Band performed patriotic songs at the ceremony, opening the event with the Star Spangled Banner. Mr. Barrera introduced special guests, including NASA's Dr. Loston, who were there to participate in the dedication. Among the other guests were the Honorable Edward M. Burke, long-time Chicago Alderman and Chairman of the City Council; Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools; and Rickey Davis, first cousin of Michael Anderson, one of the seven Astronauts on the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. Red, white and blue balloons were released into the sky as the Band played "God Bless America" at the end of the ceremony.

Dr. Loston's message to the crowd was not one of sorrow, but of reassurance that NASA's passion to "inspire the next generation of explorers" will continue on, even in the face of tragedy. The young explorers at Columbia Explorers Academy honor the memory of and are inspired by the Columbia crew each day of school as they learn, grow, and develop their own passion for the sciences.