Hands-on learning set for this summer

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SHERIDAN — Although the school year will be coming to an end shortly, a local program is offering classes to ensure that Sheridan County children have an opportunity to continue learning through the summer. And have fun doing it.

“The reason I started Science Kids was I had lived in Sheridan for 10 years or more and had a young child and just noticed there was nothing in the way of science for him to do in the summer,” said Sarah Mentock, executive director and founder of Science Kids, a field-based science program.

So in 2007, Mentock began Science Kids, an experiential science program, which has now expanded from Sheridan to Cody and Laramie as well, and employs close to 20 part-time instructors. Almost all the instructors have advanced degrees in science and she estimated that 80 percent of the classes offered are taught by individuals with a master’s or doctorate in science.

“I really wanted the focus to be on science,” she said.  “I wanted it to be real high quality science.”

The program is primarily sponsored by the Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation, with additional financial support from the Scott Foundation and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In addition, the program partners locally with The Brinton Museum for several events including monthly birding outings on the site.

The birding field trips have been particularly popular, with about two dozen people attending the events.

“Our main focus is really outside science education, field-based education,” Mentock said. “But our additional goal is just to get kids learning science period in any way, shape or form.”

“We offer all kinds of classes,” she continued. “We offer ornithology, an entomology class which is “Bug Out,” stream ecology and botany — more specifically ethnobotany, which teaches kids how to use plants how Indians used to use plants. Which are poisonous plants, edible plants, which plants you can make into baskets. It is a really fun class. What we try to do in the summer is really touch on as many of the major disciplines of science that we can.”

Even though the program focuses on science and learning, Mentock said another priority is making the experience exciting and engaging for children. Classes are kept small and no grades are given or homework assigned.

“This is not a class, so there are no notes that are taken,” Mentock explained. “The handouts are minimal. It has to do with hands-on experiential learning and fun is definitely a huge part of it; probably as important as the science. And our safety policy. We don’t allow any of our classes to have any more than a four-to-one ratio of students to staff.”

Most of the classes are geared toward elementary-aged children, but there is at least one class for students up through eighth grade.

Various classes are offered throughout the year, but the options increase significantly during the summer. Scholarships are sometimes available, but costs are also kept to a minimum in order to allow as many children to participate as possible. Mentock said costs for classes range from $35 to $115 and rates have not been raised in six years.

Classes begin in mid-June and run into August. Mentock said there are still some slots open for classes this summer and parents and kids can learn more about the offerings by visiting www.science-kids.org

By |May 9th, 2014|

About the Author:

Christina Schmidt has worked at The Sheridan Press since August 2012. She covers a variety of feature stories as well as stories related to local schools.