Jefferson Award Winner Leads Champions of ScienceBy Sharon Chin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) Deep inside Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, middle school kids are mixing up ingredients like water, dirt, and sand to create their very own model of a comet. But it’s not the mix that has these kids engaged and inspired: it’s their teacher, confirmed science geek Dan Stanton.

For the last three years, Stanton has headed up Champions of Science, a weekly afterschool program that serves low income students from the Oakland Unified School District. Champions of Science accepts 60 kids a year from OUSD. Stanton’s number one goal is to capture their curiosity at an age when most are more interested in their cell phones and social media than science.

“Seventh and eighth grade is definitely a turning point for most students where they get really motivated to do well in school, or some may realize, ‘I’m not interested in anything at school,'” explained Stanton. ”I want them to be inspired about space and inspired about science.”

To get the kids excited, Stanton engages them in hands-on activities, everything from engineering to environmental science. On a recent afternoon, the kids witnessed what dry ice can do to a simple flower. In one experiment, Stanton had a student dip a rose directly into liquid nitrogen, then smack it with a hammer. The rose cracked into pieces, providing a good illustration of the icy conditions in deep space.

Chabot’s Lisa Hoover founded the program 12 years ago, but says she was glad to hand the reigns over to Stanton, who adds his own educational spark.

“We’re so proud to be working with Dan,” said Hoover. “He’s a great all-around person, always innovating something new that everyone wants to duplicate.”

It’s a teaching style that speaks to eight grader Rasia Thornton.

“That’s one of the best things,’ explained Thornton. “A teacher that can break it down for you so you can understand it.”

Champions of Science does require an application process, so any interested OUSD student can apply. Grants fund the program. And Stanton says grant money also pays for the students’ school bus rides to and from Chabot. And the program is popular: Stanton says this year he has a waiting list 24 students long.

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