Above: Students from Renaissance High School along with their principal Robin Gillette volunteered their time to run more than 20 activity stations at the event. In all there were more than 60 volunteers, most of them were students from Santa Paula and Renaissance high schools.

Barbara Webster Elementary School hosts
he first of four Family Science Nights

October 29, 2014
Santa Paula News

On October 9th Barbara Webster Elementary School hosted the first of four Family Science Nights scheduled for Santa Paula this school year. Excited second through fifth graders from both Barbara Webster and Bedell Elementary schools pressed into the multi-purpose room to participate in more than 20 hands-on science activities while their parents looked on and, in many cases, took part in the demonstrations.

The Santa Paula Unified School District contracted with the Discovery Center for Science and Technology of Thousand Oaks to bring these events to Santa Paula, which have long been a popular extra-curricular activity for schools in Conejo Valley. Last year the district sponsored three Family Science Nights and this year’s encore will include four. 

A half an hour into the event, the warm room is full of smiling little faces looking up at enthusiastic teenagers wearing white lab coats, guiding them through various activities. At one table, kids are challenged to levitate a ping-pong ball by blowing through a straw, and learn about Bernoulli’s Principal. At another table squeamish little hands poke and prod at squiggling earth worms while nearby others press their hands into “Oobleck.” At a series of chemistry-themed tables, students paint with acids and bases onto purple indicator paper and mix various powders and liquids which bubble and fizz. 

Robin Freeman, assistant superintendent of educational services for the district, welcomes families as they arrive. “I’m excited because it’s an opportunity for the students to have a learning experience with their parents.”

Sophia Jimenez, a third grader at Barbara Webster Elementary School, builds a model lung while her parents look on. Then she beams over at her mother who shares that “Sophia is really into science right now” and participates in the after-school-robotics program. “I didn’t think of how simple it is to do stuff at home to help her learn new things. I’m taking chemistry right now so I really liked looking at the chemistry activities and sharing that with her.”

The event is a multi-community collaboration. The Discovery Center for Science and Technology is an entirely volunteer-led organization. Volunteers developed the activities. Volunteers restock the supplies between each event. Volunteers set up, run, and tear down each event. It takes about fifty to sixty volunteers per event to run a Family Science Night according to Kristin Majda, a Santa Paula resident and one of the event’s coordinators. “In addition to the volunteers from Conejo, “ reports Majda, “we have about 50 local high schools students here tonight working the tables, guiding the younger kids through each activity and helping them to understand the science; and then we have a diverse group of adult volunteers helping to oversee the event, including teachers and principals from all four participating elementary and high schools, and volunteers from Santa Paula Latino Town Hall and the Optimist Club.”  

Science Teacher Christine Wilkinson walks around observing her students in action. “What I enjoy about family science night is seeing my students in a different role where they can actually be the expert; it’s nice to see them have this responsibility and this air of confidence.” 

“It’s really a great event,” says Alfonso Gamino, superintendent of the Santa Paula Unified School District, who watches as his daughter, a student at Bedell Elementary School, shoots magnets at a nearby target. “Our high school kids are very engaged with our elementary kids and our elementary kids look up to them, so its a win-win for all of our kids, for our schools, and for our community.”

Richard Castaniero, a teacher at Santa Paula High School who is also coordinating a series of career development workshops for Santa Paula youth, helps a student adjust the focus on one of the five microscopes at the “Hidden Worlds” table. “I think this is a wonderful program because students come here, they get to explore and play and learn about science in a fun way. It’s a lot different than giving someone a book and saying ‘here, read about it’. Here they’re getting to do things hands-on. They’re all smiling and having an amazing experience.”

“It’s exciting to hear them asking inquiry-based questions,” adds Elizabeth Garcia, principal of Santa Paula High School and one of the leaders who helped train the volunteers at an orientation the week before. On this evening she is overseeing the dry ice station where students blow bubbles that rest upon a layer of carbon dioxide gas. “What happened?” she asks a group of little kids huddled around an ice chest, “why aren’t they falling?” Nathan Vasquez, a student at Barbara Webster admires the bubbles and says, “tonight it’s very fun because you get to do a lot of hands-on activities!”

Robin Gillette, principal of Renaissance High School, is also present. She snaps photos of her students while giving them a lot of positive feedback. “What a wonderful event this is! We’re always looking for more opportunities for our students from Renaissance High School to become involved in the community. The students were really looking forward to this. They’re having a wonderful time and a couple of them have expressed to me that this experience has made them more aware of science as a career path.”

According to studies quoted at the 2013 California STEM Symposium, students who are not substantively exposed to science by fifth grade are much less likely to pursue careers in science-related fields. Family Science Nights play an important role in both helping to expose Santa Paula students to more science and increasing parent involvement in their child’s education. 

The school district will host three more Family Science Nights this school year: one on November 20th at Glen City School, one on February 5th at Thille School, and one on March 5th at Blanchard School that will include McKevett students as well. For more information about these events, or if you are interested in volunteering, please contact Emma Posadas at the Santa Paula Unified School District office at 805-933-8800.

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