University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Dark Skies, Bright Kids

Dark Skies Bright Kids is an entirely volunteer-run program out of the UVa Astronomy Department with the core mission of enhancing science education for elementary school students targeted at underserved schools in rural Virginia. The program seeks to foster the natural curiosity of children by helping them to explore the Universe in a social setting with fun, hands-on activities.

The main Goals of DSBK are:

  • to illustrate to students that science is a fun, creative, and exciting process;
  • to empower students to be curious and to ask questions;
  • to help students develop problem-solving skills;
  • to demonstrate that science is a viable career path chosen by many diverse individuals;
  • to nurture a sense of wonder and awe for the Universe;
  • to teach students basic astronomy concepts.

The backbone of the DSBK program is the two-month Astronomy Club that is held at a different elementary school each semester. This long-term commitment enables the volunteers to build meaningful relationships with the students and take learning to a deeper level than is possible with “one-off” events. The director of DSBK, Dr. Kelsey Johnson, compares this process to building a bonfire; if the kindling and wood has already been collected and stacked, simply lighting a match will ignite the fire. However, if the wood hasn’t been collected, or it is rotten or wet, the fire won’t catch without a dedicated effort. The semester-long program is designed to lay the foundation for a life-long interest in science.

In addition, DSBK carries out a variety of activities, including special astronomy days featuring their portable planetarium, family observing nights, and regional star parties, and participation at community-based events (including Kid-Vention, Girl Scout Day at the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory open house). Furthermore, the DSBK volunteers have created a bilingual (Spanish-English) astronomy picture book in effort to reach out to Hispanic communities. DSBK also has a strong social-media presence with a Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube Channel.

Dark Skies Bright Kids is run by volunteers from the University of Virginia. The program is led by Professor Kelsey Johnson and has volunteer support from graduate and undergraduate students. These volunteers are the backbone of the program. No astronomy background is required to volunteer with the club! Interested? Email dsbk [at] virginia (dot) edu.