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Observatory renamed to honor retiring physics teacher

Building renamed "Dean Howarth Observatory" to recognize teacher's 31 years at McLean

Physics+teacher+Dean+Howarth+smiles+with+the+plaque+dedicating+the+observatory+in+his+name.+This+honor+was+given+to+Howarth+as+an+acknowledgement+of+his+31-year+career+at+McLean+High+School.+%28photo+by+Maren+Kranking%29
Physics teacher Dean Howarth smiles with the plaque dedicating the observatory in his name. This honor was given to Howarth as an acknowledgement of his 31-year career at McLean High School. (photo by Maren Kranking)

Physics teacher Dean Howarth smiles with the plaque dedicating the observatory in his name. This honor was given to Howarth as an acknowledgement of his 31-year career at McLean High School. (photo by Maren Kranking)

Physics teacher Dean Howarth smiles with the plaque dedicating the observatory in his name. This honor was given to Howarth as an acknowledgement of his 31-year career at McLean High School. (photo by Maren Kranking)

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Former and current students and faculty members of the McLean community gathered in the courtyard on Wednesday to honor physics teacher Dean Howarth by dedicating the school’s observatory in his name. Howarth will be retiring at the end of this school year after spending the entirety of his 31-year career at McLean High School. Attendees had the opportunity to explore the newly-named Dean Howarth Observatory during the event and use the telescope, as per the request of Howarth.

A plaque dedicating the observatory to Howarth in his name was hung on the front of the building. A quote from the science fiction movie “Interstellar” is included; this movie is one of Howarth’s favorites and is shown in his physics classes every year. (photo by Maren Kranking)

 

“I was surprised by the resolution from the county school board to have the building named after me after some of my friends and colleagues here at the school made an effort to draw attention to that, and for that I will be forever thankful,” Howarth said. “Since I didn’t want it to just be about me, I decided to make the ceremony an open house for the observatory. It’s a great honor and I appreciate this effort, but I wanted to make it a teachable moment too.”

The McLean community came out to support Howarth at the event, ranging from family and friends to his students—both current and former.

“I couldn’t go out on a more uplifting and enjoyable moment… I have students I had in 1992 here, and I have students I have in 2018 here,” Howarth said. “I mean, come on! It doesn’t get better than that if you’re a teacher. It’s pretty special.”

For those who know Howarth, it is clear as to why he was chosen for this honor. Teacher Meghan Percival, who was one of the faculty members who spearheaded the effort to recognize Howarth, has been at McLean for 20 years and has had him as a colleague for her full time at the school.

“[Mr. Howarth is one of] a handful of people who I have worked with that have just impressed me so much for their passion for the subject that they teach, their unique ways of working with kids and sense of humor,” Percival said. “I know he’s left a lasting legacy on so many kids’ lives and his colleagues’ lives, so I thought it would be great if we could honor him a little bit with this. You can just get a sense of the fact that he’s touched so many lives.”

Junior Syd Kirk, who is a current student in Howarth’s physics class, attended the event to show her gratitude toward her teacher.

Junior Syd Kirk looks through the telescope housed in the Dean Howarth Observatory. Howarth chose to open the observatory for attendees to view during the event. (photo by Maren Kranking)

“What really strikes me about his teaching is that he makes me really enthusiastic about something that I’m [usually] not very enthusiastic about,” Kirk said. “From the year I’ve gotten to know him, I know he’s very, very dedicated to the work he does; he’s a big reason why a lot of students are engaged with science at this school.”

Howarth’s dedication to science at McLean can be seen especially prominently in regard to his work to repair and reopen the observatory. The building was constructed in the 1960s in wake of the space race and received major usage by the school’s first astronomy club. In the 1980s, however, the school curriculum extended farther from astronomy and the observatory began to fall into disuse; discussion arose over knocking the building down during the school’s renovation.

In recent years, Howarth, with the help of the community, has made significant progress in reopening the observatory and revitalizing McLean’s astronomy club. Some of the astronomical equipment was replaced, allowing the club to get more out of the observatory.

“Everything’s up and running and everything’s working well, and I’m happy to see that happen before I leave,” Howarth said. “You know, that was nice in and of itself, knowing that maybe there will be a legacy of [astronomy] going onward.”

Howarth hopes that the observatory and astronomy’s prominence at McLean will continue to be strong in the future.

“We have this awesome facility, and you know, in all honesty my job is not to know how everything in that dome works, it’s to show you that, ‘Hey, we’ve got this cool thing, you figure out how to use it and make some great discovery.’ And I’m an old man, these are young people. These tools are for young and curious minds,” Howarth said. “Hopefully if I wander back in the neighborhood, we’ll find out that astronomy classes are out there one night, looking at Jupiter or something, and that’ll make me happy.”

Aside from honoring Howarth with the dedication, Percival hopes that the Dean Howarth observatory will serve as a symbol for his former students, reminding them of their time spent in his classroom.

Members of the McLean community enjoyed an open house to honor physics teacher Dean Howarth, complete with a table of apple pies. “Apple pie! Isaac Newton,” Howarth said. “And Carl Sagan once said, ‘If you want to make an apple pie, you must first create the universe.’ And there’s a whole episode on how the universe and apple pies are connected. You should watch it. And it’s a good pie, too!”

“[We wanted to] leave that historic mark so that people who come later may hear some stories of Mr. Howarth and how he would bring [students] out to the football field to chunk pumpkins, or dress up in his kilt on the first day of school and make learning really memorable,” Percival said.

To Howarth, the honor is a material manifestation of his 31 years of teaching.

“I mean, you don’t go into this business for fame and fortune, but it’s one of those things that when you’re a teacher… teachers kind of dig the idea of knowing your influence continues,” Howarth said. “There’s that notion that my years here at McLean will always be remembered in a physical form, as well as [through] the memories and lives of all the students who I’ve gotten to work with.”

Seen through his extensive influence on the science department and atmosphere of McLean, it is only fitting that the observatory be named for Howarth.

“I’m just immensely honored by the gesture that has been made,” Howarth said. “I don’t come across as somebody who’s particularly sentimental, but this is something that tugs at your heartstrings a little bit. It’s something that will bring a smile to my face for years and years to come.”

(photo by Maren Kranking)
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1 Comment

One Response to “Observatory renamed to honor retiring physics teacher”

  1. Barbara Dancer on June 9th, 2018 8:43 pm

    We are so very proud of our son Dean. We always knew he would do something special.

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