EMMAUS HIGH SCHOOL
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.