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Where can an inquisitive nine-year-old watch a robo-3D printer create a keychain of his own design, a squeamish 10-year-old learn the proper way of holding a tarantula spider or a group of eager six-year-olds launch SpaceX model rockets into the atmosphere? These astonishing, science-centric activities take place every day through Youth Science Center after-school programs, held within California’s public school system.

Science-Nerds in Training

The Youth Science Center (YSC) is a non-profit organization with a stated goal of improving science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM education, for students in California.  Operating since 1962, the small non-profit is manned primarily by a dedicated corp of teachers and parents who donate their time as volunteers. Founded in Fullerton, the group has recently found a new home at Bixby Elementary School in Long Beach, California. Believing in the transformative power of STEM education, YSC turns eye-rolling youngsters into awe-inspiring scientists, poised to change the world and their futures, one at a time.

We work within the school system, providing after-school workshops and weekend classes to kids within a number of school districts, including the Hacienda Unified School District, Rowland Unified School District, Whittier City School District and Mountain View,” says Ron Chong, the organization’s chair. “We are funding dependent but do our best to work with as many kids as we can, both during the school year and the summer months, when kids tend to fall behind in their studies.”

The Power of STEM

Run by volunteers known as inquiry coaches, YSC works to expose young students to a wide range of science-centric genres, including physics and biology as well as engineering and math. The cutting-edge programs include Digital Star Lab, a planetarium which covers the entire solar system, comets, stars and constellations; and the Legendary Stories Workshop, which provides students an imagination forum within which to write their own, personalized “Legend in the Stars.” The Youth Science Center is open year-round to the public and includes a wide range of hands-on, learning-focused activities. Free of charge, the Center is geared toward family exploration and group visits for classrooms. A free and extensive library of science books is also available for parents, teachers and students to borrow and use.

YSC provides students with a unique opportunity to delve deep into science via hands-on techniques, able to fuel their curiosity and enhance their creative problem solving abilities. A strong focus on hi-tech learning is in keeping with college-level work, yet is geared toward the interests and abilities of elementary school kids. The result is an intoxicating mix of multi-dimensional problem solving and an increased joy of STEM-based learning that surprises educators, parents and most importantly, the students themselves.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.

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