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Transploreum enlivens transportation studies for kids

Tupelo — When Tupelo Middle School (TMS) principal Linda Clifton and neighboring Pierce Street Elementary School principal Dr. Debbie Davis initially envisioned a “transploreum” — a facility designed for student exploration of transportation issues in a museum-like environment — they pictured a caboose with a computer lab. They even located a caboose and figured out a way to get it here.

But as fate would have it, there was just one problem: the fire marshal informed them that the caboose could only hold eight students at a time. Given the student population that would use the transploreum, an eight-student limit wasn’t going to work.

So, they went back to the drawing board and what emerged was perhaps even beyond their most optimistic expectations. While the initial vision had to be modified, the resulting “Plan B” became a reality this school year.

In late August, the 2,520-square-foot transploreum on the Tupelo Middle School campus was opened in a community ceremony that heralded the importance of community partnerships. Fashioned after a train depot, the facility boasts of classroom and exhibit space. While it will be used for many purposes, an overriding one is to offer the TRAC (transportation and civil engineering) and RIDES (Roadways in Developing Elementary Students) curriculum.

Additionally, students may participate in interactive classes across the Mississippi Public Broadcasting education network. They may also interact with scientists from Stennis Space Center and other facilities, giving them the opportunity to learn beyond the constraints of any textbook.

Clifton said that she is pleased with the variety of ways in which students may benefit from the transploreum.

“Not only can children learn about the history of transportation in our state, but they also have the opportunity to communicate with Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) engineers — they have the opportunity to learn first hand what it takes to be an engineer,” Clifton said. “They have access to distance learning opportunities, the Internet and the TRAC software will enhance our math and science curriculum.”

The project emerged thanks to the cooperation and support of a variety of partners ranging from MDOT to NASA to local parent/teacher organizations and other agencies and funding resources. Students were involved as well, with several providing input on the project several years ago. Ben Baker, now a freshman at Tupelo High School, was involved in that process as a Pierce Street Elementary student and spoke at the transploreum ribbon cutting.

Others commended the effort as well. “Words can’t do justice to the reality of this dream and its impact on student learning,” said David Meadows, Tupelo Public School District assistant superintendent.

Tate Jackson with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, who works with TRAC implementation, said that he was looking forward to having a national training session at the transploreum so he could “play with the toys, too.” Joking aside, he encouraged students to continue their quest for education by asking tough questions — even stumping speakers or instructors on occasion.

Shawn Brevard, a parent and community volunteer, said that initiatives such as the transploreum bring out the best in communities when they seek cooperative solutions to their needs.

“Today at TMS, the larger perspective won out,” she said as she commended those who worked in tandem to accomplish the goal.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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