Categories: Local News

Parents rally to save space camp

SHOOTING FOR THE STARS – Brennan Dahl (left) is one of about 101 parents and students who learned this week that they would not be going to a space camp in Quebec this spring due to the unexpected closure of a travel company. Now

St. Albert parents have rallied together to try and save their students’ space camp.

About 101 parents and students in the St. Albert Public School district learned late last week that the company behind the space camp tour they had paid for had apparently gone out of business, taking some $228,000 of their money with it.

The trip, which has been organized by board schools many times in the last decade, was to take students on a tour of Ontario and Quebec to visit places such as Parliament and the Cosmodome space camp in Laval, Que.

Board officials told the parents at a meeting Wednesday night that the trip was officially cancelled, said board superintendent Barry Wowk. “We have made a decision that the trip is off.” Although the trip had effectively been cancelled as of Monday, many needed this official announcement so they could pursue refunds through their credit card companies, he said.

Shana Dahl, whose son, Brennan, was supposed to go on the trip, said she was at first frustrated by the news last week.

Then, she got organized.

“I went to bed that night and I woke up and I don’t know what got into me,” she said, laughing. “I decided I’m going to see if I can spearhead an effort to get these kids to camp.”

Dahl launched the Save Our Space Camp fundraising drive Tuesday morning on Facebook and has been rallying supporters ever since.

“I am not getting sleep,” she said. “The days are starting to blur together at this point.”

The group’s goal is not to recover money from Experiential Education and Tours (the company that went out of business), Dahl said. Instead, it aims to recreate the space camp trip for any student who still wants to go on it.

About a quarter of the students have expressed an interest so far, Dahl said. “We may be looking at half the number of students,” she added, as many families were still frustrated by the cancellation.

The group has already set up a Save Our Space Camp trust account for donations through ATB Financial, and is working on a charitable comedy show with the radio station 630 CHED. “I have also been contacted by another company that has said they will do a band set,” Dahl said.

Working with Quebec’s Global Tourisme, they’ve managed to hold onto many of the group’s reservations and nabbed discounts in the process. Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica has agreed to waive their fees entirely, Dahl noted.

School principals are working on a backup plan as well, said board spokesperson Paula Power. The University of Alberta and the Telus World of Science have both offered to run a mini-space-camp for the affected students, one that includes meteors, rocket launches and stargazing.

“We’re not really exactly sure what it will look like at this point, but we’ll work together to make it a great experience for the kids.”

Many hurdles

The board will consider approving this new trip if the parents can raise the money and make the arrangements, Wowk said. Still, it will be a challenge for them to raise the cash in time.

“The big thing is the plane tickets and the hotel rooms,” he said. Many of the reservations for this trip have been in place for over a year, and some have already been released due to non-payment. (Air Canada has agreed to hold the trip’s plane tickets until next Thursday, Powers said.)

Time is their biggest hurdle right now, Dahl said. The group needs to have at least $100,000 by April 16 to pull off the trip on April 26, she estimated. Any unused funds would go towards local breakfast and lunch clubs.

Clad in an official NASA T-shirt, Brennan said he was fascinated by space and excited to go to space camp.

“There’s millions of things and millions of possibilities (in space),” he said. “Who knows? There may even be life on another planet.”

But the odds of this trip happening were slim, he added – he put their chances at about 45 per cent. “It’ll be a challenge.”

This wasn’t about the money, Dahl said, but about the kids. “This is an experience of a lifetime. When are they going to get this opportunity again?”

Visit www.facebook.com/SOSC2014 for details on the campaign.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.