29 Oct 2014

The Legacy of Michael Mocherman

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In Sarasota Florida, at Riverview High School, Jason Mocherman has inherited a legacy. For Jason, heading the Planetarium is not only a passion, but also an incredible opportunity started by his father more than twenty years ago. Growing up, Jason was constantly surrounded by science projects at home. Telescopes, instruments and experiments filled the house, and because of Michael Mocherman’s passion, Jason developed an affinity towards science at an early age. “My Dad has always loved teaching,” Jason remembers, “Nothing brought him greater joy.”

sarasota (1)Michael Mocherman began teaching science at Riverview High School in 1982. A few years later, he became science department chairman where he began to tirelessly build numerous science programs. His goal was to grow it into the best and most unique department it could ever be. Michael wanted the students to have as much access to science as they could so they could fulfill all their curiosities. His work at developing the department included creating radiation labs for the students, marine science labs, and then the planetarium. “The planetarium became my Dad’s pet project,” Jason says. “It was started by him, and perpetuated by him. It became his top priority.”

sarasotaMichael refitted the planetarium and started presenting daily shows in the 1990’s. At that time, community awareness of the planetarium at Riverview was particularly low, but Michael slowly began drawing support from the surrounding schools and community. He not only refurbished the actual Planetarium itself during those years, but he spent an endless amount of hours developing the program, using any amount of time he had when he was not teaching his science classes. Schedules, coordination with other schools, procedures and the shows themselves all came together because of his devotion to the program. By 2007, the planetarium was presenting daily shows to thousands of children in the surrounding school districts. While the planetarium was experiencing an astonishing amount of success by this time, challenges were still appearing.

During that school year the county decided to rebuild Riverview High School, tearing down the old building, which included the planetarium. Based on budget cuts, the county determined that the planetarium was no longer a necessary addition of the high school. However, because of the programs Michael had started in the 90’s and the thousands of children that visited the planetarium yearly, there was enough community support to potentially rebuild the planetarium. Michael’s efforts over the years had now made the planetarium an important staple of the community. With his influence, and tremendous support from Jason who was now the Planetarium Director, the county agreed to rebuild the planetarium if they raised half the money themselves. In 2009, they had successfully raised six hundred thousand dollars, which was half of the money needed to rebuild. The county kept its promise, and the planetarium was rebuilt along with the high school. “It was his legacy of shows and reaching out to the community that allowed us to rebuild,” says Jason.

DCF 1.0  DCF 1.0

Jason took over for his Dad as Planetarium Director in 2000, working alongside with him before officially taking control of the program in 2002. “By the time I stepped in, he had already laid the foundation for the entire program. Because of his efforts, the planetarium was already an important part of the community,” recalls Jason. “But I was thrilled to be able to have those two years working with him directly.”

An incredibly special project both father and son share, is a show entitled “Stars to Starfish” a story about the ties between the sea and the sky, which Michael wrote in the 1990’s. In 2011, they decided to introduce the story into the planetarium and produce the show. Together they rewrote the script and along with the company, Full Dome FX, presented the show for the first time. The success of the show was overwhelming and so immense that Riverview was awarded a $75,000 grant from State Farm Insurance. Always thinking of the school, the money went to an aquaculture green house that was built on the edge of campus. Now because of “Stars to Starfish,” there is a special program at the school where students can view the planetarium show, and then do a hands-on tour of the aquaculture green house afterward. “This is just one of many things my Dad started. He laid all the groundwork for numerous programs, and I just took it to the next logical step,” says Jason.

Michael Mocherman retired from teaching in June of 2012. In his forty-one years of being a teacher, Michael has influenced more then just the surrounding community. His modest approach to teaching and the creation of so many influential programs at Riverview High School have made him a beloved teacher, even today. “Students are still coming up to me almost every other day asking about Papa Moch,” says Jason. Throughout the years, Michael has received numerous awards for his efforts and hard work. His development of the science program at Riverview has now made it a flagship for science in the entire state of Florida. Today the planetarium sees eighty five hundred school children a year, with shows being presented once a day, completely free of charge. It was very important to Michael that the planetarium did not charge the students. He was adamant the children should be able to see quality content for free. The planetarium today, subsists on grants and proposals that Jason puts together. “He has left his fingerprints everywhere, “ says Jason, “all of the policies and procedures he created still exist and run the same way he started them, twenty years ago. It is very important to me that I not only carry that on, but that I do it well. I’m very proud to continue on his legacy.”

Michael was awarded the Planetarium Director award from Riverview when he retired, for running the planetarium from 1993-2002. “If you ask him what his greatest accomplishment is,” says Jason, “It’s not the planetarium, or any of the awards he has won. It’s working with his students. That’s his proudest achievement.”


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