Former students share memories of the Ontario Science Centre’s school

Following the announcement of the Ontario Science Centre's abrupt closure, former students of the school operated out of the centre are reminiscing about their formative experiences.

From DNA extraction to space shuttle simulations to a field trip to a nuclear reactor, former students of the school operated out of the Ontario Science Centre are reminiscing about their formative experience, following word of the centre’s abrupt closure. Visitors walk through the rain forest installation at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Friday, May 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

From DNA extraction to space shuttle simulations to a field trip to a nuclear reactor, former students of the school operated out of the Ontario Science Centre are reminiscing about their formative experience, following word of the centre’s abrupt closure.

A spokesperson for the science centre said the school has been cancelled for the 2024-25 year, and they are looking at ways to deliver the school beyond that as the province searches for a temporary location and plans a new facility at Ontario Place. However, the interim home wouldn’t open until 2026 and the new building isn’t set to be open until at least 2028.

The school allowed up to 36 Grade 12 students at a time to spend one semester learning at the science centre, taking some of their high school science courses such as biology and chemistry there, as well as an innovation course that saw them present projects and explain exhibits to science centre visitors.

Former students say if the school doesn’t continue it would be a huge loss for others who may not get the same opportunities they had at the school that opened up a world of potential.

Melissa Croft attended the science school in 2018 and is now finishing her master’s degree in science communication, a pursuit she directly ties to her experience at the school.

“In high school I was already interested in science, but I imagined myself going more into academia, like maybe being a professor or going into research,” she said.

“At science school…I really enjoyed interacting with people, teaching them about science, getting them excited. So after that, I continued to go with science, like I really do like science, but it was a different pathway in science that I didn’t really know existed.”

One of the projects Croft did in the innovation course was to create a science story book and read it to elementary students at a nearby school. Samantha Macklin, who was also at the school in 2018, developed an exhibit on the science of magic and illusions and got to demonstrate it for visitors for her innovation course. She recalls with fondness when her class successfully completed a space shuttle simulation.

Macklin is now finishing her master’s degree in environmental science and also wants to work in science communications, though she had hoped that could be at the science centre.

“I definitely learned that that was exactly what I wanted to do when I was at the science centre,” she said. “I hoped to work there in the future actually, so it’s very devastating that it’s going to be closed.”

Other former students Macklin has talked to are similarly upset by the closure, she said.

“Most people just feel like it’s a great loss for us, but more so for the younger students who will not get to experience something that was so pivotal to our lives,” she said.

Pinar Ari just finished high school and spent the first semester of her final year at the science school. She had encouraged friends in younger grades to apply because of how much she loved it.

“It was a more enriching STEM environment as the class sizes were smaller, and they had different types of labs, and experiments that we wouldn’t normally do in our other home school,” Ari said.

She recalled doing DNA extraction on a strawberry, and a field trip to the nuclear reactor at McMaster University as particular highlights.

Kyla Tan, now studying materials engineering, recalled creating a science podcast, working on a project about growing plants on the space station, and watching a science centre teacher demonstrate weight distribution and pressure by lying on a bed of nails.

“It took such a different approach to education than any other classes I’ve been in before,” Tan said.

“The teachers, rather than focusing on us regurgitating knowledge to them, they would give us assignments and projects to make sure that we actually understood the content by asking us some really weird questions that made us think very hard.”

Tan had been taking her four-year-old cousin regularly to visit the science centre and hoped to take another cousin, now nine months old, when she got older.

“I just want to cry after hearing the news,” she said. “It played a very important part in some very formative years and it sucks that I’ll never be able to go back.”

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