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New science program

Hands-on program comes to Boys and Girls Club

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD Children who utilize the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield will soon have the chance to learn more about science through an Immersion Presents Science program that is based on the work of Dr. Robert Ballard, oceanographer and the scientist who discovered the Titanic and the PT 109.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield was one of 44 clubs across the country chosen to participate in the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (OJP).

Kellie Brown, program director for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield, said Bill Parks, the Club's executive director, is a huge part of the Immersion Program through the Boys and Girls Club nationally. She said Parks was one of the first people to introduce the program.

The Club has implemented a program about the Black Sea in the past, but it is not as "hands-on" as the new program, according to Brown.

For the new program, a staff member from the Club will head to the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. for training about the program next month. The program will begin soon after the staff member returns.

Brown explained that the new program will include about 65 percent hands-on learning and about 35 percent learning through reading.

She said that there is a curriculum set through Mystic Aquarium that will be sent to the Club for the educational coordinator to follow.

The program is based on Ballard's summer exploration "Greece Erupts." Ballard will be exploring the Santorini Island area.

In addition to learning about the expedition and science through exploration at the Club, two children from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield will have the chance to visit Mystic Aquarium, where they will be able to communicate with Ballard and his team in Greece via satellite, Brown said.

The children will also explore the aquarium behind the scenes and participate in science activities.

She added that the two children chosen to go will act as the liaisons for the Club and will bring the excitement back with them to share with the other children in the program.

"The key to the whole program is to try to give them a little scientific view from the experts themselves," she said.

Brown anticipates that 20 to 50 children will participate in the program and said it will be tough to choose the two children who will travel to Mystic in June.

She added that she may host an essay contest to choose the two children for the trip.

"Unfortunately, training and finances allow us [to take] two kids," Brown said.

Brown said there are a lot of children at the Club who are interested in science. She added that the Club offered a Dragonfly Quest program, which was also part of the Boys and Girls Club nationally. This program, according to Brown, taught the children about different experiments.

"We try to take what they are learning in the classroom and broaden it in a more fun atmosphere at the Club," she said.

She added that the children are having fun while learning, and may not realize how much they are learning.

The program will be aimed at children ages 10 and up. However, younger children will be able to participate if they are interested.

At the Club, Brown said that there are some kids who never wander into the education room, who may attend the Club for the social aspect or to participate in sports. However, she said there are about 60 to 80 children each day who visit the education room to do homework, to read, for help with their school work, or to participate in one of the Club's programs.

"We are always looking for any way we can better the kids for the future, whether it be education, technology or even sports and recreation," Brown said. "We are always looking for new ideas to make learning fun for the kids."

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield has a membership of over 1,000 children and sees an average of 260 to 280 children each day.

The Immersion Science Presents Program is also part of the Club's Crime Prevention Initiative.

Brown said that the Club plans to get the local Law Enforcement involved with the new program to show them how the Club is trying to further the education of local children outside of the school atmosphere. She added perhaps the program will help draw some children to the club to participate in the programs who would normally just "hang out."