Allegheny College Hosts Eighth Annual Hands-On Science Programming for Local Fourth Graders
For the eighth year, Allegheny College hosted “4th Graders as Scientists” for local students. The program, held over four days in February and March, encourages careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It also included purposeful conservations in mathematics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, physics, computer science, and geology. In addition, it assists in preparing fourth graders at Crawford Central School District (CCSD) for their Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) science test by creating opportunities for the students to be curious, solve problems, and think critically.
Originally, the program was sparked by a conversation among Allegheny College, CCSD, local nonprofits, and Partners in Education (PiE), a program through which businesses, government, and non-profits work with schools to raise the quality of education in a community. The group believed getting kids’ minds and hands active in the sciences was important.
“Kids are natural scientists, and letting them be active participants in their own learning by employing fun, hands-on activities reinforces that they are indeed scientists. We use the phrase ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ when discussing the program,” said Lisa Whitenack, associate professor of biology and geology. “The kids get to meet a huge diversity of folks in this program, including college students and people doing science for a living.”
Sixty Allegheny College students volunteered over the program’s four days. Kaitlyn Royal ’24, a double major in biology and environmental science and sustainability with an education studies minor, was a student organizer for the program. She said the experience reaffirmed her interest in becoming an environmental educator.
“I think my favorite part is seeing the kids get so excited about science. In the Creek Connections aquatic macroinvertebrate session, I had a fourth grader talk about being a professional baseball player part-time and a macro-scientist the rest of the time,” said Royal. “It’s fun to watch their dreams change to include new topics that they find interesting and worthwhile. Their excitement is contagious!”
Royal was also honored with the Lew and Ellie Davies Award for Outstanding Community Service by the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce for her outstanding work on the 4th Graders as Scientists program. She is also a dedicated educator with Creek Connections and volunteers at the First Baptist Church of Linesville.
The community effort between the Allegheny community, CCSD, Creek Connections, and the Crawford County K-12 Career Education Alliance has been well-received over the years.
“The feedback has been extremely positive from students and teachers each and every year,” said Ann Noonen, CCSD director of educational technology and federal programs. “Teachers comment on the variety and depth of the hands-on activities each year and how engaged students are, reporting it’s their favorite curriculum-related field trip!”
Whitenack, one of the event’s organizers, witnessed the program’s success firsthand when she received two strong and enthusiastic reviews from participants she knows very well, her children.
“I have two kids at home. My oldest came through the program when she was in fourth grade and my youngest (Wes) went this year. Wes couldn’t wait to tell me everything they did as soon as I got home on the day they were on campus,” Whitenack said. “They are still talking about picking through the macroinvertebrates with Wendy Kedzierski and how mayfly larvae were their favorite. They are still running around the house with their notebook and nametag when they decide they should do an experiment to figure something out.“
Besides Whitenack, the following were also organizers of this year’s program:
- Wendy Kedzierski, Creek Connections
- Eileen Mullen, Crawford County K-12 Career Education Alliance
- Erin O’Day-Frye, Dean for Student Success
- Craig Dodge, Associate Professor of Mathematics
- Ann Noonen, CCSD Director of Educational Technology and Federal Programs
- Kaitlyn Royal, Allegheny Student and Organizing Committee Member
Funding for the program was received through a community project grant and supported by a source that wishes to remain anonymous.