Science Outing Puts Kids on Campus

Program aimed at at-risk students

Daily Gazette, January 2008

Exactly what causes the moon to be either a crescent, half or full?

About 24 third-graders from local schools and Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region attempted to answer that question at Schenectady County Community College on Monday.

Instructors Melanie Louise Uebele, an Operation SMART program specialist at Girls Inc., and Danielle Rossner, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at the International Charter School of Schenectady, shined flashlights on small Styrofoam balls on sticks. The goal was to teach students that the moon emits no light of its own, but the side of the moon that faces the sun reflects the sunlight.

Students held the balls to see how much light is seen, depending on the position of their body — the “Earth” in this scenario.

This was all part of the Help Yourself Foundation, which was started by Roger Hull, a former president of Union College . The program involves administrators selecting low-income students who have shown academic promise but have limited resources to study twice a week at a community college. The goal is to expose these students to a college campus at an early age. Hull developed a similar strategy during his presidency at Beloit College in Washington.

“The object here is the same — to give at-risk kids an opportunity to broaden their horizons,” he said.

The students meet on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the school year.

“I have fun in the class. You learn lots of cool things,” said 8-year-old Summer Childs, who is in third grade at Lincoln Elementary School .

“You’re going to be science detectives. We’re going to be examining a lot of different materials. We want to find out what properties they have,” Uebele said.

The students broke up into small groups and used their deductive skills to determine what was in various bags and boxes. They were not allowed to look inside but could feel the outside of the bag or reach in a small hole in the box. Students learned terms such as elasticity, meaning a material will revert to its original shape when it is pushed or stretched, or plasticity, meaning a material will change to a new shape when touched, like Play-Doh.

“I think I know what it is,” said 9-year-old Arline Camilo of Pleasant Valley Elementary School , reaching into one container. “It’s Play-Doh. It smells like Play-Doh,”.

Naidea Ryan, 8, also of Pleasant Valley , said she likes science.

“You get to find out new things and do lots of experiments and mix stuff together,” she said.

Anthony Brown, 8, a student at the International Charter School , said he also likes science and wants to invent an “airboard” — a skateboard that can fly.

At the end of the hour, the students successfully identified the various items, which included Play-Doh, a coconut, a sponge and Styrofoam.

Sam Penceal, charter school director, said, “This is very exciting. Hands-on science is one of the best ways to get them learning.

“They were very excited about coming to college.”

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