Friendship that’s out of this world…
Sometimes, a good friend comes along at just the right moment to remind us of our sense of worth. For the Schreder Planetarium, a North State institution that has inspired the community for more than 40 years, the power of friendship is just what it took to help sharpen the blurred image.
The Planetarium, which opened in 1979, was named for Jack Schreder, the Shasta County superintendent of schools who was instrumental in obtaining funding for the project during his tenure. In 2015, the planetarium was on the verge of closure due to low attendance and subsequent lack of financial viability. The Shasta County Office of Education had been reviewing its mission – to serve schools – and the mounting belief was that the money being used to support the planetarium might be better spent differently.
But some community members knew what it meant to have the Schreder Planetarium in the community and decided to hone their efforts to keep it open. It was, after all, the only planetarium of its size in the North State between San Francisco and Eugene, Ore.
Kristen Schreder, wife of Jack Schreder, was one of those community members. As a frequent volunteer at the planetarium, she often asks audience members at shows how many of them had come to the planetarium as children. “About a third of them raise their hands,” she says. “I remember an occasion in which a grandmother, a daughter and a granddaughter – three generations – had visited the planetarium.”
Schreder used her background in fundraising and grant writing to form the non-profit Friends of Schreder Planetarium in 2017 with the help of volunteers and Nathan Fairchild, director of science with the Shasta County Office of Education.
Fairchild, whose background includes experience as a middle-school science teacher and a park ranger, became director of Schreder Planetarium just as the board was edging closer to making the decision to close it. He became instrumental in the process of changing its fate.
The facility’s projector was 16 years old, outdated and sometimes failed to work properly. A new projector would cost $400,000, but research and perseverance led Fairchild to a projector that could be installed for $266,000 from a company called Spitz Scidome.
Unfortunately, Friends of Schreder Planetarium began sending out fundraising letters just two days before the Carr Fire. Knowing the support needed to go to the community during such a crucial time, they suspended fundraising efforts until December 2018. In January 2019, the Friends asked the school board to help raise half of the funds needed to update the planetarium, a goal it met with the fervent support of current Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores.
The Friends earned a $50,000 grant from the McConnell Fund of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation. Spitz Scidome honored a year-old quote for the projector, so long as it was purchased by July 30, 2019. This deadline was the inspiration the community needed to chip in the remaining funding.
Fairchild used social media to garner community support for the shows, increasing participation from one show per month with 20 to 40 attendees to two shows per month, selling out a 63-seat venue 94 percent of the time. These efforts also increased the volume of field trips from area schools. Fairchild has tailored lessons for school children that visit the facility. Each class field trip is preceded by a lesson plan to help introduce some of what the students will learn there, and closes with a post-lesson to help reinforce their experience.
“The first time I taught 3rd graders in the planetarium, they had the same reaction to it that I did when I first entered the building. They looked up at the dome and said, ‘wow’. I hadn’t even turned the projector on yet and they were fascinated. It was magical to them and I’ve never forgotten that,” says Fairchild.
What began as a concerted effort between the Friends of Schreder Planetarium and the Shasta County Board of Education became a community-wide effort to sustain a program that had inspired generations of North State learners.
“Just as we had begun to raise money for the new projector, a donation box was placed in the gift shop. About 75 percent of those kids bought an ice cream from the gift shop and put their remaining dollar in the donation box. It kept happening. They were not prompted in any way to do it – but they saw value in what the planetarium had to offer. Knowing those kids cared enough about it was an emotional experience,” says Fairchild.
In December 2019, just in time to honor the Planetarium’s 40th year in service to the community, the new projector was installed. In January, more than 120 people gathered to celebrate the grand re-opening.
“Even with old, blurry images, people raved about it,” says Fairchild. “Imagine what people are going to experience with the new programs.”
The projector’s quality is “like the difference between an iPhone and a flip phone,” says Schreder. “With the new projector in place, the Planetarium hopes to serve 3,000 students during the school year and 1,500 adults and children at Friday evening shows.”
“The Schreder Planetarium reinforces the importance of science education for children. It is more important than it has ever been before, with climate change and the impact of the world around us. These programs teach space exploration, the stars and the solar system and they are deeply connected to science, technology, engineering and math. Science helps kids with critical thinking and problem solving. The science education they gain today will be useful for their tomorrow,” says Schreder.
Schreder and Fairchild want the planetarium’s reach to extend beyond the realm of science. They have partnered with North State Symphony to incorporate a program with space-themed music. They have also begun to reach out to local Native American communities to determine how they might be able to incorporate storytelling under the night sky, a concept aimed at teaching history and cultural inclusivity.
“It’s important to recognize all of the different cultures in our community. We can use the planetarium as an educational tool to teach visitors about other cultures,” says Schreder.
“There isn’t an exact plan yet, but we want to be sure that everyone in our community feels represented and is represented,” says Fairchild.
Friends of Schreder Planetarium maintains a focus on fundraising that is two-fold: to continue to support the planetarium with new shows and to help support the cost of admission for school children, some of whose
families have been heavily impacted by the financial effects of COVID-19. Students and their parents have been amongst the most avid supporters of the planetarium. Organizations can schedule events at the facility, in hopes that the events will garner donations. Community members can become a Friend of Schreder Planetarium through Facebook or by direct mail. If there is one thing life teaches us, it is that a good friend – or a community full of them – can change your life. •
Schreder Planetarium • 1644 Magnolia Ave., Redding
www.shastacoe.org • (530) 225-0243
P.O. Box 993891 • Redding, California 96099-3891
Find Friends of Schreder Planetarium and Schreder Planetarium both on Facebook
*Schreder Planetarium was closed to the public at the time this article was written due to COVID-19. Watch their Facebook pages for updates.