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Sierra Grande revives science fair program

Posted: Thursday, Nov 29th, 2012

Sierra Grande fourth and fifth graders are looking forward to competing in their first science fair in early 2013. Photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

BLANCA — Enthusiastic Sierra Grande students are making the school’s science fair program revival as easy as mixing baking soda and vinegar to create a model volcano.

After an off again on again participation hiatus, the school has made science fair projects a part of fourth and fifth grade curriculum during the second quarter and it formed the Science Club, a funded extracurricular activity for junior high and high school students. With help from the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative (RGWCEI), and dedicated parents and teachers, more Sierra Grander Panthers will be on the prowl for awards and recognition during the spring science fair season than ever before.

“Some of the kids that are participating are doing this completely on their own time and it says a lot about what they are doing,” said RGWECI Director Judy Lopez, who is heading up the Sierra Grande classroom and club lessons with her staff. “We have some great parents. They want to bring the program back. Everyone is on board and it is a win-win situation.”

In the past, Lopez has mentored some Sierra Grande students interested in the science fair through the RGWECI program, assisting one student in gaining state and international science fair honors. This year, she is working with returning participants and welcoming many new entrants.

First time participant fifth grader Randi Espinoza, 11, who is in the midst of finding out if a man or a woman stands a better chance at sinking free throws, said on Wednesday afternoon she thought the research and coming competition was “fun” because “you get to have different experiences. You can learn in science. I like it.”

Classmate Jocelynn Carter, 10, who is working on a project to further the understanding of gender inequalities for the behavioral/social sciences category, agreed preparing for the science fair was fun and a way to have new experiences, but also a way to change the future.

“They (men and women) should have equal opportunities,” Carter said. “When I grow up, I want to do things like men.”

For others, the science fair is about satisfying curiosities. Fifth grader Isaias Minchaca, 10, is digging deep into soil health to make sense of what he sees growing in gardens. His experiment will look at the differences between growing plants in potting soil versus outdoors in a field.

“This is important so people know what kind of soil to use,” said Minchaca, who wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. “I like science. I will need to use it in the future. I will probably do it in all my school years instead of sports.”

From across the classroom, Leeondra Ellis, 10, said she was also after knowledge for the simple sake of knowing what is happening on Earth.

“This is a first for me and all I wanted to learn about was volcanoes,” Ellis said while pouring over a National Geographic book on environmental disturbances and rattling off facts about steam blasts and magma. “If there isn’t science, we wouldn’t even know what volcanoes are.”

Fifth grader Antonio Martinez, 11, whose project is focused on litter and those who commit the crime, said science could help people understand the world in which they live on a practical level.

“I’m mad because people are destroying the Earth,” Martinez said. “Litterers make the Earth look nasty and ugly. Wouldn’t they be embarrassed if an alien came down and saw how dirty this Earth is?”

Returning science fair contestant junior Andrew Rascon, 16, is trying to solve some of the same problems as Martinez through his project involving compost and worms, which is a method of recycling.

“Considering how the Earth is now, it is important to take advantage of technology to make the planet greener,” said Rascon during Wednesday’s Science Club meeting. “The worms are able to create new and clean nutrients from eating waste.”

For Rascon and his upper class peers, science fair goes far beyond fun. In some scenarios, a win could mean cash, scholarship money and a jump-start into higher education.

“This gives me the opportunity to finish my science credits for next year and then I can get ahead and take a college science credit,” said Rascon, who hopes to someday combine his passion for art with science. “I now have a better chance to get into college, save money and I could draw and do something that I love and relate it to work.”

Senior Skylan Tamada, 18, who wants to study psychology next fall, expressed similar notions. This year, his project involves shame and how it affects people’s decisions.

“I want to see how people react,” Tamada said. “It is very interesting to see how the human brain works.”

He added the science fair has also helped him understand how his brain works.

“This has taught me educational skills and how to present myself and my work,” Tamada said. “I used be so nervous and stutter a lot. This is fun and I have learned a lot.”

Sophomore Bradley Wakasugi, a sixth year science fair participant that is attempting to design homemade water filters to aid people in third world countries, concurred.

“It’s a good experience and you learn a lot more than you might just in class,” Wakasugi said. “It is also a good way to get connected to people that can present you with opportunities.”

Sierra Grande will host its science fair early next year and the winners will then go on to participate in the San Luis Valley Regional Science Fair (SLVRSF) on March 7 and 8, 2013. SLVRSF is a regional fair affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) and the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair (CSEF). Twenty projects will qualify for the 2013 CSEF and two individual projects and a student observer will qualify for the Intel ISEF.

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