Bringing Astronomy to Kids in Crisis
Book cover rec

By Carolyn Brinkworth | June 18th, 2013

Here at Spitzer, we’ve just spent a fabulous 8 weeks working with Learning Works, a local school for youth in crisis, teaching their 9th grade students about astronomy, and taking our own images of famous astronomical objects with the 2m robotic, professional-grade Faulkes Telescopes.

My team of volunteers from Spitzer and the California Institute of Technology was co-led by Alex Lockwood, a graduate student in the Dept of Planetary Sciences. For 8 weeks, we have been going into the school to teach the class about different aspects of astronomy.  We built telescopes with the students, and taught them about the constellations and why we can see different stars at different times of year. We talked about coordinate systems, light and colour, and about exposure times. Finally, the students researched the objects that can be seen at this time of year, and wrote up proposals to compete amongst each other and decide which of the objects we should observe with the telescopes. 

We captured the winning images with the Faulkes Telescope South on May 28th, processed them into full-colour images, and combined them with the students’ and volunteers’ biographies to create the book linked from this blog. The highlight of the project was a visit from the Mayor of Pasadena, Bill Bogaard, who came to meet the class and find out what the students had learned. 

My team of volunteers, including graduate students and postdocs from many Caltech departments, has been involved with Learning Works in various ways for about 2 years now. The school provides a personalised, rigorous academic and life-skills program to traditionally underserved students who have been excluded from, or dropped out of, mainstream schooling. The youth they serve cannot accurately be described as “at-risk” - rather, they are “in crisis” or have already demonstrated behaviour that exceeds at-risk, such as becoming pregnant, dropping out of school, or entering the juvenile detention system. The school works with these students to get them back into the education system, and to ensure that they graduate with their high school diploma. It’s a truly special place, and we’re incredibly proud to support their vital work. On a personal note, I can honestly say that working with these students has been one of the highlights of my career, and a ton of fun. 

Finally, I’d like to offer up a special note of thanks to my volunteer team. These folks give up their time and energy throughout the year to bring science to kids, both at this school and many others in the local area. Alex Lockwood co-led the team for this project, but we had huge support from Dr Jeff Rich, Dr. Chris Tibbs, Dr. Joe Masiero, Dr. Dave Cole, Dr Gordon Squires, Dr. Robert Hurt, Katie Taylor and Dr. Tim Goodsall. Without their support, projects like this would simply never happen. A huge thanks also to Mayor Bogaard; Eric Glenn, the school’s 9th Grade teacher; Mikala Rahn, the school principal, and to the Faulkes Telescope team for granting us time on the telescopes. 

Download the Astronomy at Learning Works PDF book.

To learn more about the Learning Works Charter School and how you can support their extraordinary work, please visit their website:

For more information about the Faulkes Telescope Project and how you can integrate using the telescopes into your classroom, please visit