Young Docents Bring Observatory to Life

Their weekly after-school activities range from Girl Scouts to basketball. But every Saturday, they meet to fuel their common curiosity of the cosmos.

The students, seventh- through 12th-graders from across the Northwest suburbs, are part of Harper College's Henize Observatory Student Docent Program, a new initiative that trains local middle and high school students to run the telescopes and identify astronomical elements for the hundreds of stargazers who visit the observatory each year.

The docents, schooled by Harper instructors, learn everything from intermediate physics and mathematical equations to how to find and categorize elements in the sky.

Margot Dick, a Barrington Elementary School eighth-grade docent, says the knowledge she's gained has built her interest in astronomy and will carry over when she eventually heads to college.

"One of my first times going to the observing sessions, some students found out I had set up the telescope and started asking me more questions," she says. "It was one of my favorite memories that I was able to talk about astronomy with college students."

The program is funded by a grant through the College's Educational Foundation, with an eye on fostering the next generation's interest in science. Sixteen student docents are currently enrolled, ranging in age from 12 to 17.

"They not only meet like-minded peers, but they find new ways to get excited about science in the role of facilitator," says Harper's Astronomy Outreach Coordinator Joe Kabbes, who launched the program after realizing a need for more volunteer help could be answered with an educational opportunity. "The payoff comes in the development of their science skills and their communication skills. I wish I had something like this growing up."

The Observatory offers free public viewings from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. every other Saturday through fall, weather permitting. Visit for more information.

Press Contact: Melanie Krakauer, 847.925.6000, ext. 2561