East Penn Press

Monday, May 21, 2018
PRESS PHOTOS BY APRIL PETERSONA ribbon cutting ceremony was held June 8 to open the new student designed and built observatory at Emmaus High School. ABOVE: Andrew McConville, who teaches astronomy at Emmaus High School and was the client for the observatory project, cuts the ribbon to mark the official opening of the observatory while Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at EHS, PRESS PHOTOS BY APRIL PETERSONA ribbon cutting ceremony was held June 8 to open the new student designed and built observatory at Emmaus High School. ABOVE: Andrew McConville, who teaches astronomy at Emmaus High School and was the client for the observatory project, cuts the ribbon to mark the official opening of the observatory while Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at EHS,
Michael Horn, an alum of Emmaus High School, shakes Scott Didra’s hand during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Horn’s design for the observatory was chosen from submissions for the project. Horn is now studying mechanical engineering at Penn State. Michael Horn, an alum of Emmaus High School, shakes Scott Didra’s hand during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Horn’s design for the observatory was chosen from submissions for the project. Horn is now studying mechanical engineering at Penn State.
The observatory roof retracts to allow a clear view of the sky from a powerful telescope within the observatory building. The moving roof was among the many challenges the students faced in designing and developing the project. The observatory roof retracts to allow a clear view of the sky from a powerful telescope within the observatory building. The moving roof was among the many challenges the students faced in designing and developing the project.
The observatory was the finale project for Scott Didra who retired at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. He acknowledged the contributions of area businesses, Emmaus High School administrators and staff and borough officials with plaques presented at the ribbon cutting ceremony June 8. The observatory was the finale project for Scott Didra who retired at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. He acknowledged the contributions of area businesses, Emmaus High School administrators and staff and borough officials with plaques presented at the ribbon cutting ceremony June 8.
Andrew McConville, who teaches astronomy at EHS and was the client for the observatory project, watches the roof as it retracts. Andrew McConville, who teaches astronomy at EHS and was the client for the observatory project, watches the roof as it retracts.
Three-dimensional models of the observatory provide views of different stages of the project. Three-dimensional models of the observatory provide views of different stages of the project.
Scott Didra asks the audience, which included EHS students and alumni, administrators and staff, Emmaus community members, municipal officials, business owners and others, to raise their hands toward the stars at the ribbon cutting ceremony for an observatory designed and built by students. The ribbon cutting was held June 8. Scott Didra asks the audience, which included EHS students and alumni, administrators and staff, Emmaus community members, municipal officials, business owners and others, to raise their hands toward the stars at the ribbon cutting ceremony for an observatory designed and built by students. The ribbon cutting was held June 8.

EMMAUS HIGH SCHOOL

Thursday, July 6, 2017 by April Peterson apeterson@tnonline.com in School

A legacy to the stars

It was a perfect day for a finale.

On June 8, Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at Emmaus High School, returned to campus to see the final project of his tenure at the school open with an ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Didra and his students, with contributions of time and effort by businesses from contractors to landscapers, built a working observatory on campus. The observatory houses a telescope and features a retractable roof.

Current students as well as alumni of Didra’s past projects at the school, EHS administrators and staff along with business and community leaders gathered to mark the occasion and see the observatory roof open.

“The journey is what life’s about,” Didra said in remarks after the ceremony officially ended. “Words can’t express. It is just incredible to see the kids’ faces. It was priceless.”

Many of the ‘kids’ are now college students, including Michael Horn, who is studying mechanical engineering at Penn State and will be a junior in the fall. Horn’s design for the observatory was selected by his classmates. Horn, however, doesn’t consider the design his alone.

“I played a part in this with everyone else,” he said.

Benjamin Whitby, foreman for the project and now a student at Millersville University, explained to audience members how Horn’s project was selected. The first project proposed was for an equipment shed for the sports department at EHS.

“We want to do something cooler,” Whitby said of the reaction by his fellow students at the time.

Astronomy teacher Andrew McConville’s request for an observatory met the cool requirement and Horn’s design fit the vision the students had.

Didra’s design-to-build curriculum simulates an architecture and design firm. A client is chosen and work begins with the client in mind. Students brainstorm and collaborate, visit prospective sites and meet with professionals in different areas of expertise. Designs get revised. Problems get solved. The observatory presented a particular challenge in its roof. The roof had to shelter and protect the powerful telescope within the walls of the structure but also move to allow a clear view of the skies and stars above.

“As Mr. Didra always says, ‘problems aren’t really problems. They are just opportunities to learn,’” Whitby explained to the audience.

The observatory is the finale in a series of four projects Didra and students in his architecture classes have completed. The odyssey began with a playhouse in 2010. Built for the child development classes, the playhouse remains in use. Students next worked on two projects for the sports department, designing and building a ticket booth and a press box, both at Memorial Field at EHS. Each project offered its own unique challenges. For example, the press box needed to be elevated to allow an unobstructed view of the full playing field.

In his remarks, Didra noted the ticket booth and press box are within sight of the observatory, providing a visible time line of student work.

“This is awesome. This is amazing,” Andrew McConville, the client for the observatory project, said after the ceremony. “It opens the universe to students. The universe is now the subject.”

Students will be able to work with the observatory and telescope through cellphone technology to study stars, planets and galaxies.

“I’m just so glad that they chose me to make something for,” McConville said.

The observatory’s completion likely is the final project design-to-build project Didra will shepherd at the school. He retired at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. At the ceremony, Didra celebrated contributions by EHS administrators and staff as well as business and community leaders who participated in all of the projects. Many contributors took home plaques recognizing their generosity of support for the program, projects and students. Many contributors also are acknowledged in dedication boards featured on walls at each finished project.

“It’s a perfect day to celebrate not just this structure behind me but all of you,” Didra said.