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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

‘Noche de Ciencias’ promotes STEM activities, college route for young Hispanic students

Dunbar students played host to Hispanic children and families from across the county on Science Night.


By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools

Children as young as 4 launched tiny paper rockets, examined a mystery planet and navigated a maze during “Noche de Ciencias” at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

Hispanic students and families throughout Fayette County were invited to Science Night, which offered STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities for the youngsters and college-planning sessions for their parents. Dunbar’s junior chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHEP) and its Latino Outreach Leaders Club co-hosted the event, with guidance from Kentucky Bluegrass SHEP members.

“The main goal is for them to learn as much as they can while also having fun,” said junior Erika Nunez, a member of both Dunbar organizations. “It’s a lot of help to have the parents and students on the same page, and we can answer all their questions in one night.”

This fall, the SHPE Foundation sponsored more than 80 Science Nights in the United States and Puerto Rico to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and to provide resources on post-secondary education and financial aid. The family sessions were presented in English and in Spanish so that guests would feel at ease.

“We want parents to understand the college process so they’re not overwhelmed,” said Claudia Goggin of Lexmark International, the Region 6 vice president for SHPE and co-founder of the Kentucky Bluegrass Professional Chapter.

Gathered in Dunbar’s library, families heard about the benefits of college such as broadening perspectives, meeting new people and preparing for good-paying careers. They also covered some particulars on competing for scholarships and applying for student loans.

Meanwhile, their children fanned out with the high school students to activity stations in nearby classrooms. At the first stop, each youngster fashioned a simple rocket with paper and tape, and then launched it with a puff of breath through a drinking straw. A Dunbar senior explained how slight variations in design meant one boy’s rocket traveled the farthest and one girl’s failed to fly. She also showed the kids how to adjust the trajectory to improve their results.

In one of the STEM activities, youngsters sorted rocks and other samples by size, color, shape, material or texture. This exercise was part of the 'mystery planet' session. (Photos from FCPS)

In the mystery planet session, youngsters worked in small groups to sort a bag of rocks by size, shape, color, material or texture. Some also found bits of glass, bone, metal and leaves. The idea was to figure out what kind of planet the samples might have come from. The children also drew pictures of what their mystery planet might look like.

Down the hall, older students led the “rover races” exercise, in which the kids closed their eyes and followed oral directions to make their way through a maze laid out on the floor. The point there was to foster trust, build courage and instill confidence, which dovetailed with the purpose of Science Night.

“A lot of Hispanics have potential to do great in the STEM areas, but they’re not aware of the opportunities,” said Erika, who demonstrated how to traverse the maze. “Anybody can do it if they just put their mind to it.”

That’s where SHPE’s junior chapters and events like “Noche de Ciencias” come in. As Goggin said, “That’s the best way to get students involved in science early on and build a pipeline.”



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