The Indianapolis Public Schools planetarium is housed in Stuart Hall on the Arsenal Technical High School campus. Gail Schwoebel has been a Planetarium Director for over 20 years, both at Arlington High School when it was part of IPS and at Arsenal Tech when the planetarium moved there.
The IPS planetarium is a full 360-degree dome, a rarity for high schools. And the Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5 software used is state of the art. Albeit smaller in size, it’s the same software and setup used by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Schwoebel’s mission over the years has remained the same: to build programs for the planetarium that help all students throughout the district meet their science standards and inspire them in the process. “I want to fashion programs that go beyond the standards, ones that excite students to get to the library and learn more.”
Schwoebel writes and records voiceovers for all the programs herself, and she scours the Internet looking for content she can incorporate into her shows. This year she is working with 2nd, 5th and 6th grade students, along with various high school classes. She asks teachers for feedback, and she tailors the content she covers to help the teachers prepare their students.
For example, this is her first year working with 2nd grade students, so she is adapting a program on the sun’s path and the seasons to focus on patterns because looking for patterns is a standard 2nd graders are tested on. When a 6th grade teacher mentioned the science standards for her students covered tides, Schwoebel adapted her program to have more information on that topic for students. Schwoebel has also over the years created resources for teachers that are also linked to standards to help them continue the science lessons after students leave the planetarium.
And students appreciate the different perspective on subjects the planetarium can offer. “I feel like I’m interacting with something, not just looking at something,” said Arsenal Tech senior Samantha M. “The surround sound makes you feel like you are in the experience. You can understand where the stars are in the sky more than you can from looking at a 2D screen.”
That kind of comment makes Schwoebel happy. “I want to inspire kids more than anything else. And if I can inspire kids enough about something to read more about it, that’s empowering the students. The more they read, the better their lives will be,” she said.
A state-of-the-art facility with a passionate director committed to helping students meet their standards and more—the IPS planetarium is something everyone in the district should check out. It truly is a stellar resource that all IPS schools and students can benefit from.