Food, with a helping of science, is being offered this week to youngsters at an Indianapolis school.
The initiative pairs the Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence charter school, known as SENSE, and the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The school, 1601 Barth Ave., is where children go for free breakfasts and lunches through Summer Servings, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program. Once they’ve finished lunch, a Center for Earth and Environmental Science education coordinator and two interns will lead students in a two-hour-a-day scientific exploration of Pleasant Run Creek, which runs nearby through the heart of the SENSE community where the children live. The programming is part of what Kate Voss, outreach coordinator at SENSE, is calling Ecocamp.
The Center for Earth and Environmental Science will equip the children with technology and knowledge to judge by the end of the week the quality of water flowing in the stream and make recommendations for further improving the stream ecosystem.
The center was established by the Department of Earth Sciences in the School of Science at IUPUI in 1997. Among its research and educational outreach programs, the center operates Discovering the Science of the Environment, an inquiry-based and interactive science education program for Central Indiana third- through ninth-graders and education professionals. Thanks to the generosity of Dow AgroSciences, CEES is able to offer this summer science programming.
SENSE is the third Indianapolis school the Center for Earth and Environmental Science has worked with this summer, said Pam Martin, center director and an associate professor in the School of Science and School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. “We are providing outdoor science education to go along with the healthy meals provided by the Summer Servings program and school staff.
“It’s a bonus for everyone involved,” Martin said. “The science we provide gives parents another reason to bring kids for a meal and gives us the opportunity to give these kids a little science they might not otherwise get.”
While coordinated programming efforts and effective campaigns by groups such as the Indy Hunger Network have increased participation, Summer Servings participation is still low. According to a summer nutrition report, only 18 percent of qualifying children participated in July 2013. At the same time, Indiana needs to build its future workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields and that begins with taking – and maintaining – an interest in science.
The summer Discovering the Science of Environment program is primarily about enthusiasm for science and developing a good experience with it, Martin said. “We want kids to have the experience of discovery; that is what science is all about. And while they are developing an appreciation for science, they are also developing an appreciation for the environment.”
Beginning today, youngsters will learn about watersheds and investigate their own watershed using Google Earth satellite imagery. They will also play a water cycle board game to learn about how water changes states as it cycles through their watershed. On Tuesday, they will learn about energy flow through a food chain and investigate the biodiversity of the land along Pleasant Run. Children will then assess the stream’s physical parameters on Wednesday to determine overall stream stability and health. The stream’s discharge will be calculated as well.
A chemical assessment of water quality will be conducted Thursday, including measurements of dissolved oxygen levels, cloudiness, iron, chlorine and nitrate concentration. The week concludes with the collection of water bugs and a calculation of a pollution tolerance index.
The program at SENSE is “bringing the science home” by connecting it to everyday life, said Elizabeth Johnson, education outreach coordinator at the Center for Earth and Environmental Science, who will lead the children in the watershed exploration. “Anytime you can connect education to something familiar, it is easier to grasp.”
Johnson will be assisted by two IUPUI interns: Kenzie Whitener, a psychology major who is focusing on child psychology with the aim of working with children with behavioral problems; and Doaris Medina, an elementary education major.
Editor’s note: Reporters who would like to visit the school while students are engaged in science exploration may do so. The children will begin their science exploration about noon each day and stop at 2 p.m. Please contact Diane Brown at 317-274-2195.