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Science links E.C. schools with county extension office

June 27, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

HOLTVILLE — The University of California Desert Research and Extension Center is joining forces with El Centro Elementary School District to provide an opportunity for middle school students to learn about science.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and slated to begin in the fall, the Informal Science Education program is an after-school program for middle school students to experiment, research and interact with research scientists at the center.

The program will receive $350,000 over the next three years from the NSF.

"It ties in nicely with what our students will have experienced in the elementary and middle school curriculum," said Michael Klentschy, ECESD superintendent and principal investigator of the project.

Paul Sebesta, director of the Desert Research and Extension Center, said, "An important part of what we want to do here is the education of kids and providing value to the community."

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Said Klentschy: "It gives students real world experience to expose them to the opportunity to do real science."

Sebesta said the facility provides support for all research activities for the University of California system.

Said Klentschy: "We have not fully utilized this resource as much as we can."

Sebesta said he would like the center to be used more than it is.

"We encourage teachers to call … we do career days, tours of the facility, class presentations," Sebesta said.

He added the facility hosts an "Ag Futures" day for high school students interested in agriculture.

Ag Futures gives a $1,000 scholarship to a high school senior studying natural resource sciences or agriculture in college.

"This builds on that," said Debra Driskill, administrative assistant to Sebesta.

"It gives seventh- and eighth-graders exposure to the center. Then when they get to high school and participate in Ag Futures, they can have four years of exposure to the center and to agriculture," Driskill said.

Klentschy said the program will be open to all middle schools in the county.

"Next year we will start with four schools and only seventh- graders," Klentschy said.

He added, "For sure Kennedy Middle School, and probably Wilson Junior High will participate next year. Then the two or three other schools will be based on who's interested and ready to begin.

"We will have an outreach for all middle school science teachers in the county where we will outline the goals of program," Klentschy said.

The program requires a resource teacher at the school site who will teach the science unit.

Students will travel to the research center two or three times a week to conduct experiments.

"It will be the planning at the school and the implementing at the center," Klentschy said.

"The grant will provide for an outreach coordinator at the research center," Driskill said.

She added the center is in the process of looking for a coordinator for the project.

"The coordinator will be the go-between for the resource teacher at the school site and with the scientists at the center," Driskill said.

"It's an excellent opportunity for us to form a strong partnership," Klentschy said. "It is important for junior high students to have an association with the University of California."

Klentschy added he hopes the program will particularly expose careers in science to more Latinas.

"Latina females have the highest dropout rate … our wish is to expose more females and underrepresented groups to science and the many pathways that they can take in careers in science," Klentschy said.

Sebesta said parents will be included in the program, with various open houses and programs for parents to get involved.

"It fills our commitment to educational outreach," Sebesta said. "Social problems can be solved through agricultural science … we are educating our future decision makers and the best way to educate is to show."

Klentschy added, "It's a strong, informal mentoring program."

Sebesta's "lifetime vision" for the center is "bricks and mortar dedicated to educating students from kindergarten to retirees."

Said Driskill: "Our goal here at the University of California is to have an educational program all-inclusive from kindergarten to adults … and this will be a key component to starting that."

Concluded Sebesta: "We're anxious to get this going."

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

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