Wish Book: School without walls: Youth Science Institute brings low-income kids into nature

Culture

SAN JOSE, CALIF. – OCT. 23: Children learn birdwatching at a Youth Science Institute field trip, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Alum Rock Park in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

These free “hands on” experiences were rare during the COVID-19 pandemic. A June report by the Policy Analysis for California Education found that as of March 2021, 70% of California students were attending virtual-only schools. While some affluent private schools stayed open, education in many public schools in low-income neighborhoods was online only.

YSI’s hands-on program not only sparks interest in science and learning, but fosters environmental stewardship, said the parents.

“It is really reinforcing the value of protecting our Earth, protecting our trees and our waterways and protecting habitats for wildlife,” said Lombera. “It’s the perfect adventurous experience in nature for our city kids.”


THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.

WISH
Donations will cover general expenses of the Youth Science Institute’s education services and help them expand its scholarship program to serve 288 children, helping reduce the performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged youth. Goal: $25,000.

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Online videos don’t describe the feel of a feather, the perfume of wet soil, the wonder of binoculars or the chill of an incoming storm.

After a pandemic filled with too much screen time and too little green time, children from inner city San Jose were thrilled by a recent outdoor adventure with the Youth Science Institute, searching for all things bright and beautiful, any creature great or small.

Isabella Banulos, 8, marveled at her first-ever deer sighting.

“They skip!”  she exclaimed, as the small herd vanished down the trail. Online learning hadn’t explained that, either.

The Youth Science Institute’s new “Science Saturday” program at Alum Rock Park is reaching about 66 at-risk and low-income children from Title 1-eligible schools, defined as having a child poverty rate of at least 40%.

But it wants to do more. If it can raise $25,000, it can expand the scholarship program to serve 288 children, helping reduce the performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged youth.

“Children from low-income communities already experience an education gap,” said Erika Buck, executive director of the Youth Science Institute, based in Los Gatos. “And then, with the pandemic, children had to learn virtually from home. They weren’t given the ‘in person’ hands-on experiences that YSI can provide.”

SAN JOSE, CALIF. – OCT. 23: Gaia Campos-Anderson and Kaylee Huynh investigate owl pellets during a Youth Science Institute field trip, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Alum Rock Park in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

The Institute puts nature at the heart of its program. Under the open sky and towering trees, the goal is to cultivate a love of science among children in kindergarten to sixth grade. It can happen quickly.

Just ask the children gathered on a blue tarp this particular day, gazing into the eyes of a great horned owl as its talons clutch the arm of YSI animal curator Alex Schord.

“Its ears are like a satellite dish,” said Schord, a San Jose native who was first inspired by YSI as a toddler, then graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biology.

As if on cue, the owl spun its head, then flapped its wings. In muddy sweatshirts and jackets, the children flapped their arms, in unison.

“Where is its mouth?” asked one student, puzzled. “He is breathing very fast,” worried another.

“You’re beautiful, man,” Freddy Malone, 7, told the owl.

Seated at tables, holding tweezers with the focus of trained surgeons, they teased apart …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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