Volunteers help students get hooked on science through the Ravenswood Science Initiative project

by Linda Hubbard on June 6, 2013

Begun in 2008 under the auspices of the Ravenswood Education Foundation, the Ravenswood Science Initiative recruits science and engineering professionals and community experts to provide content knowledge and real world experience to science labs in the Ravenswood School District, including Belle Haven and Willow Oaks schools in Menlo Park.

Explains Elizabeth Schar, the program’s founder, who continues to manage the Initiative: “Volunteers are a critical resource to expanding this program. Our goal is to provide each Ravenswood middle school student 10 lab experiences a year. We are just half way to that goal at this point. This compares to students attending Menlo Park City School District schools who get 100 days in a science lab every year.”

We talked to RSI volunteer and Menlo Park resident Skip Bonds, a retired microbiologist, and stopped in at the beginning of a rat dissection lab for the top performing 7th grade students at Belle Haven School in Menlo Park.

InMenlo: How did you get involved? And how long have you been volunteering?

Skip: We live in the Willows and they have a neighborhood website. I saw a post about needing volunteers and gave Elizabeth a call. I’ve been volunteering for the past school year. I’d done some teaching at DeAnza previously.

I like the interaction and seeing kids get passionate about science. The labs are hands-on science, which is a much better learning experience. You need to be in a lab to see how things work.

InMenlo: What’s the time commitment and how do you prepare yourself for the classroom?

Skip: The time commitment can be as little as just showing up and being a responsible adult  — there’s one adult at each table. The next level up is actually preparing the coursework. Some people volunteer at more than one school. Others help with supplies as these schools don’t have lab supplies.

When I do a presentation, I do a power point just like I would if I was doing a presentation to a business group. The kids want to see things — that hooks them. I try to make them very visual so they take notice.

InMenlo: What are challenges you face as a volunteer?

Skip: You need to have a teacher that buys into the program as well as administrative buy in. The teacher I work with, Mr. Garcia, gets it.

InMenlo: What are the rewards?

Skip: Watching the handful of kids who really get hooked on science. A lightbulb goes off when they realize they can now teach science to others. You can almost hear them thinking, “I get this. I can teach my parents. I don’t always have to be the student. I can be a teacher!”

There are a lot of bright kids out there who need a just little push.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Elizabeth Schar: Elizabeth@lab-ready.org.

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