By Brenda L. Holmes
INDIANAPOLIS — The Challenger Learning Center in Decatur had one of its largest tour groups come through the facility Friday when the West Side Chamber of Commerce came to visit.
The group met several staff members from the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township, including Patty Poehler, the district’s director of outreach.
“In my three years, we’ve not had this many people in the dome,” Poehler said. “We are very excited to have you here. It’s important for us to connect with the business community.”
Following several tours through Mission Control and the Flight Simulator, members of the chamber settled in the “Holladome.”
Rick Proctor, president of the West Side Chamber of Commerce, serves on an advisory board for the Challenger Learning Center.
“Boy, this is such a nice place,” he said. “Many people don’t even know the center is here.”
He explained that Holladay Properties operates AmeriPlex, where the center is located. The large dome meeting room was named “Holladome” in the company’s honor.
“This is such a unique location,” Proctor said. “I’ve been excited for several months for us to come here.”
Proctor is vice-president of BMO Harris and said he has been encouraging his management team to do a corporate mission at the Challenger Learning Center.
As head commander Cyndy Meier said, the facility is generally used to educate children, but the curriculum doesn’t end there.
“The center is not just for kids,” she said. “We do adult missions and enjoy having corporate partners come in.”
The center welcomes groups from businesses, non-profits, clubs, or just about any group that may want to visit.
The Challenger Learning Center was opened in Decatur Township nine years ago. It recently had upgrades on its equipment.
There are 50 Challenger Learning Centers around the world with three of them being in Indiana at Brownsburg, Hammond, and Decatur Township.
“It was 25 years ago that the Challenger was lost,” Meier said. “During that mission, we lost an educator. Many of the spouses of the crew were also educators. They wanted to start a few centers like this one in Texas.”
She said the idea caught on and centers started opening all around the world.
The MSD of Decatur Township has integrated the center into its curriculum. All fifth- and seventh-grade students do a mission at the center.
“We exist to help students put their academics to the real world,” Meier said. “Teachers get the students ready before they come. When they get here, they’re in charge.”
Each mission takes about two hours to complete. During the exercise, participants in groups of between 20 to 34 take on a role with a mission to complete in space.
Dr. Debbie Sullivan, the district’s new superintendent, told chamber members that the center is just one way the district is striving to teach to the 21st Century.
Corporate groups who would like more information on missions may call 856-2167.