Adventures in Science @ SJ

Upperclassmen start workshop to get kids interested in science.

Not long after the hectic final weeks of classes and exams, busy sounds of students hard at work in the science labs of the Ryken Center filled the school. These high-schoolers, however, were accompanied by some much younger learners. Rising senior Jackson Ennis and his friends returned to Saint John’s during summer vacation for a special workshop geared towards elementary-aged kids, encouraging them to foster a love of science and learning.

Jackson, an avid science student, was inspired to put this program together after his family adopted nine-year old Isaac from Ghana in March 2014. “His presence has changed our lives forever – in a good way” says Jackson. “During the dead of winter, my family’s wood-burning stove was on and Isaac started dropping ice cubes on it, exclaiming ‘Solid! Liquid! Gas!’ Earlier that day Isaac had learned about the states of matter in school - and he seemed genuinely excited about watching science in action. After this, I went to Mr. James, my teacher for two years and a mentor for me at Saint John’s, simply to ask him about performing some sort of event in science at Isaac’s school, New Citizen’s Center. He was excited. From there, after discussions with both administrations, and plenty of planning, the idea snowballed into what eventually became ‘Adventures in Science @ SJ.’”

New Citizen’s Center (NCC) is a Worcester public school that serves the city’s large immigrant population. Many of the third- through twelfth-graders who attend NCC have had little previous formal education or their schooling was interrupted due to wars or other problems in their home countries.

Deciding to start small, Jackson invited Isaac’s class, comprised of twenty students from Iraq, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, Guatemala, and Nepal. 

Jackson’s fellow Pioneers Vincenzo Malo ’16, Andrew Baublis ’15, Jeremy Canfield ’15, Ryan Sheehy ’16, Treston Magnacca ’16, and Matthew Dowling ’15. Mr. Steve Devaney and Mrs. Dana James, and Dr. John Morse also volunteered their time to help out on the program.

Split up into small groups led by SJ students, the NCC students watched several demonstrations - from Tesla coil lightbulbs to home-made magnetic ramps - and learned how to make silly-putty, LED-powered light sabers, and balloon-powered cars and boats. They had to troubleshoot and fix problems as they tested their inventions.
Jackson and his classmates worked hard to make the demonstrations lead to some understanding and insight, but with the focus on making them accessible and visually exciting. “The demonstrations were designed to show them things with science that they did not think were possible – and we found that they were surprised, engaged and excited the entire time. They participated and tried their hardest to answer any questions we posed.” 

Ultimately, the goal of “Adventures in Science @ SJ” was to get kids excited about science. Secondarily, says Jackson, “we wanted them to learn and apply their knowledge of science to specific situations. Using demonstrations that were tangible and right in front of them, we hoped to get them interested in exploring more of the subject of science.”