Could your child be the next Einstein?

June 18, 1997

Imagine teaching your children about reflected light by allowing them to climb inside a giant kaleidoscope. Or about invisible energy by letting them turn on a giant magnet and watching how it affects various metal objects.

They're doing just that in science centers all over the U.S. and they could do it here in Hagerstown as well. The idea is to make learning fun and to spark children's interest in science at the same time, according to Beverly Baccala, the president of Discovery Station at Hagerstown, Inc. If you attended the recent Western Maryland Blues Fest, you might have seen their exhibit of musical instruments made from common kitchen tools. It's Baccala's goal to make such exhibitions a permanent feature of downtown Hagerstown.

Her inspiration comes from the Maryland Science Center, where she worked for four years before taking a job in the county's economic development department.


"Back in 1994, I read that it was part of the master plan of Hagerstown to have a children's museum in downtown. I approached the Science Center because initially I wanted them to do it here, like a satellite center," she said.

The studied the idea, but decided that although they couldn't afford a satellite, they could provide help to any local group that took on project. And so Baccala set about forming a group to do just that. The group just received its federal non-profit designation, which means that donations are tax-deductible.

"We're at the point now where we need a facility, because what I'm finding is that businesses are willing to help do things, rather than provide money," Baccala said. Once a building is obtained, Baccala said, certain local companies have already pledged to do things like painting and rewiring.

Baccala said they're hoping to get something in the 16,000 to 24,000 square-foot range. For those like myself who can't envision how big that is, the Grand Piano building downtown is about 50,000 square feet.

Kurt Cushwa, a local architect on the board, said that, "Size is really less important than things like accessibility, a place for bus unloading and public visibility, because the lifeblood of this place is going to be schools on field trips."

A multi-story building wouldn't be a bad place to house Discovery Station, Cushwa said, because "it requires a tremendous amount of storage and preparation areas."

The idea of a hands-on center that stimulates students' minds is not new. In January 1996, The Baltimore Sun reported estimated that there are 290 in the U.S., run by groups concerned that students see science as too hard or too boring to warrant much effort.

Those are the young people Baccala wants to reach. Even though she concedes the center would be good for tourism and economic development (and might have to be sold on those points), she says that she wants to stimulate young minds. In reading about those people who've accomplished great things, Baccala says, there always seems to be a moment or an experience that begins that path to greatness.

Would Discovery Station inspire your child to become the next Einstein or Carl Sagan? No one knows, but then how inspired would they be by one more empty downtown storefront?

The City of Hagerstown has a couple of those in its inventory which could be used for such a museum, but Baccala and her board will probably have to spend some time educating the new mayor and council on the benefits of tourism and the need for multiple attractions to draw tourists downtown.

What Discovery Station might also do, besides providing interesting science and history lessons for local schoolchildren, is make a statement about this community - that we care enough about education to do something special to enhance it.

It could also bring the community together, putting together the fun exhibits that will teach various science lessons. Various groups might design their own, but if they'd rather just build these brain-teasing educational toys, Discovery Station has three books of blueprints put together by a San Franciso-based outfit called The Exploratorium.

My suggestion to Baccala and Cushwa: Get some volunteers to build a couple of these devices and place them in the downtown gift shop Discovery Station hopes to open later this year to sell science-related toys to raise money for the facility. My description may prompt some interest in the project, but being able to make something fascinating happen by pulling a lever will sell the idea better than 1,000 words of description.

If you're interested in volunteering some time, money or services, contact Baccala by writing Discovery Station of Hagerstown, P.O. Box 2474, Hagerstown, Md., 21741-2474.

- Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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