Setting the Stage

Behind the soaring glass facade of the nearly 1-year-old performing arts center at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School for Creative and Performing Arts in Silver Spring, students produce shows in a 425-seat black box-style theater that has “all the bells and whistles” of a professional theater, including computerized light and sound systems, dressing rooms and a concessions area, Principal Megan McLaughlin says. A large industrial room equipped with tools provides space to build sets that can easily be moved onto the stage through garage-style doors. A bonus: The theater has movable wall partitions and seats that retract to provide space for two dance studios and a theater classroom.

Seeing Stars

Even though it’s been around for nearly 40 years, the planetarium at Wood Acres Elementary School in Bethesda still feels special. It’s the only one in a county public school, and it allows kids to explore the night sky while sitting under a 14-foot metal dome. Five years ago, the school upgraded from a manually programmed projector to a computerized digital camera system that allows trained parent volunteers to project dynamic presentations onto the dome, including the use of animation to connect constellations and show how the stars appear to move through the night sky. Students can also view celestial bodies as they would if they were flying around the galaxy in a spaceship. “You can swing by Saturn and fly through the rings,” says Ajit Vaidya, co-chair of the Wood Acres planetarium volunteer program.

Courtesy photo

The Great Outdoors

At Bayard Rustin Elementary School in Rockville, students can enjoy lunch and even hear classmates practicing in nearby music classrooms when they sit in an outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the school building. With rows of cinder block seating built into a grassy hill, the amphitheater was designed to be a creative use of outdoor space when the school opened in 2018. Acting Principal Kathryn West says the amphitheater has come in handy during the pandemic as one of three designated eating areas, allowing about 50 students to socially distance in a space that can seat 150.