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A summer of science


St. Clair County 4-H and Capac Schools collaborate on new exploration program



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August 08, 2018
CAPAC — St. Clair County 4-H and Capac Community Schools have teamed up to get dozens of kids immersed in science this summer.

The 4-H Summer Science Exploration Program, under the supervision of Capac teacher and 4-H volunteer Linda Taylor, is midway through its four-week run at the Capac Middle School. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, special guests from around the county drop in to share a range of hands-on science projects, experiments and games with kindergarten through sixth grade students.

"This is a great partnership between 4-H and the school district and the kids are reaping all kinds of benefits," Taylor said.

Taylor, who's been involved in 4-H programming for more than 30 years and has served as a club leader in St. Clair County for 10 years, was made aware of 4-H funding available for after-school programming. As a summer school instructor, Taylor thought such a program might work well to combat the summer "brain drain" that many students experience while on break. Taylor applied and was named the coordinator for Capac's program.

Many of the kids who are enrolled in summer school do their studies in the morning and then stay in the afternoon for the science program. Others were recommended for the program by their teachers. Siblings of those participating are also welcome. They average just over 30 participants most days.

"The district has been so generous in all of this. The kids are getting lunch and bussing is being provided," Taylor said.

Additionally, the district is paying paraprofessionals, who assist with summer school in the morning, to stay and lend a hand in the afternoons too. Funding from 4-H covers all the program's supplies and materials.

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Jeneveve Lewis shows off the container garden she created featuring tomato, pepper, cilantro and chive plants. photo by Maria Brown.
On Thursday, Michigan State University Extension staff Carol Bublitz and Jennifer McNamara—both nutrition instructors—had students talking, learning, playing and experimenting with vegetables.

In the school's cafeteria, Bublitz and school staff were helping youngsters make mini pizza bagels. One half of the bagel had to contain a new ingredient they had never tried on pizza before like cauliflower pearls, pineapple chunks or carrot shreds.

The day prior "selfie salads" were on the menu. That week, as part of the nutrition theme, Bublitz was encouraging students to have an open mind toward good food and say "I haven't learned to like it yet" when referring to a new fruit or vegetable.

Outside of the cafeteria on Thursday, McNamara facilitated a multi-faceted color game that had students learning both sign language and the benefits of fruits and vegetables based on their hue. Purple foods help boost memory while green fruits and veggies benefit bones and teeth, she said.

Previously, staff from Pine River Nature Center provided lessons on birds. Students made bird feeders and went outdoors to look and listen for birds near the school. They'll return soon to talk about wildlife. With MSU Extension staff, science program attendees created their own container gardens and planted flowers in a bed on the Middle School grounds.

"The kids are taking responsibility for that planting now," Taylor said.

Future visitors include the Mussey Twp. Fire Department, St. Clair County Health Department, Wilson Veterinary Clinic and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Taylor, who's responsible for lining up presenters, said everyone she's contacted has been more than willing to help.

"The minute I say '4-H' and 'kids,' no one hesitates to say 'yes,'" she said with a smile.

In addition to the science they're learning, Taylor said she's just as thrilled to witness the other benefits students are reaping from the 4-H exploration program like working together, showing respect to presenters and taking responsibility for projects.

"This program gives kids a chance to widen their world. It brings 4-H to the kids and that's great for those who can't participate in a formal club setting," Taylor said.

Lori Warchuck, 4-H Program Coordinator with St Clair County's Michigan State University Extension, said the Capac program is being funded through grant dollars from the 4-H Council.

They decided to direct those funds to Capac after looking at data.

"Every year we do a needs assessment for the entire county and based on our team's finding, Capac was identified as a location where we weren't doing a lot of programming," she said.

"So far we're super excited about the programming and the response we've received. It's obvious that the science piece of this program really enhances their classroom activities."

Warchuck envisions the 4-H Summer Science Exploration Program in Capac becoming a yearly tradition.

"We will definitely be seeking funding through the council for this program again next year," she said.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.
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