Parents take turns as science students, teachers

A recreational program at the Farm Labor Homes teaches parents to carry out science lessons with their children.

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ScienceCamp-- PIRC teacher Erika Alvarez is explaining to parents and children how to do a experiment involving dry ice and soap at the Farm Labor Camp Thursday afternoon. PIRC educators come once a week to teach science at the Farm Labor Camp. 6/23/11

WALLA WALLA -- Before the lesson of the day, a lesson for the day's teachers.

And in this case, the teachers were parents of children who take part in the annual summer recreation program at the Farm Labor Homes.

On this recent Thursday, staff from the Parental Information and Resource Center in Pasco prepared dry ice, protective gloves and dish soap for one science experiment, and rubbing alcohol, markers and plain, white T-shirts for another.

In a gesture to enhance the summer programming with enriching activities, Children's Home Society worked with Educational Service District 123 to bring PIRC staff to the site and conduct science lessons throughout the summer. Because PIRC is a federal program meant to educate and empower parents in hard-to-reach communities, parents were asked to learn the lessons and be teachers to the children.

The summer program at the Farm Labor Homes is drawing close to 100 children each day this year -- some days several more, some days a few less -- said site director Mariela Rosas. Offering a variety of activities is part of the weekly demands.

The partnership with ESD 123 and the PIRC program will bring afternoon science lessons on Thursdays to the site, with the requirement that parents learn and conduct the projects.

"We were wanting to get more parents involved in their children's education," said Erika Alvarez, a PIRC liaison.

The demands of work, much of it seasonal and agriculture-based, don't always allow parents to help out with activities at the homes. But on this day, at least a dozen parents -- mainly moms -- showed up at the apartment where Rosas runs a homework club during the school year, and where the PIRC instructors demonstrated the experiments for the day.

"How many of you have heard of dry ice?" Alvarez asked, speaking in Spanish to the cluster of moms who would learn the dry-ice experiment. The women shrugged and said they weren't sure, although one knew dry ice was used by doctors to treat warts.

Alvarez explained how the frigid temperature of dry ice, which is solid carbon dioxide, can burn skin, and gloves are required to handle it. She said the dry ice would be used to make little "bombs" out of dish soap.

The dry ice, when placed in a vat with water, quickly boiled. When the gas was directed into a cup with diluted dish soap, smoky soapy bubbles formed. With the touch from a finger the bubbles burst, leaving a brief puff of smoke to make the bomb effect.

"Curious, right?" Alvarez said, again in Spanish, reminding the parents to ask questions of the children while they demonstrated the experiment. Questions like, is the ice in the water hot or cold? Will the bubbles float up or drop down?

The parents then walked together to the grassy area where the summer program is held, and where the nearly 100 children were lined up to learn the experiments.

For the other project, parents taught children how to make personalized T-shirts by drawing a picture or design on a white shirt with colorful markers, then using a dropper to bleed the ink with alcohol.

Although the two PIRC employees and some Children's Home Society site staff were there to assist them, the parents took to the projects quickly, and offered guidance to the children at the shirt station, and handled the dry ice at the other station.

Alvarez said it was clear from the parent turnout, and the enthusiasm with the projects, that they were willing to take part in their children's educations.

"They really want to participate, but a lot of times they don't know how," she said.

Parent Olivia Corona, with green garden gloves protecting her hands, helped fill the two containers with more dry ice, then asked the children questions.

"What's this?" she playfully asked as the children answered, "water!" She then went on to ask if they knew about dry ice, and if they could predict what would happen once the soap was introduced.

"Smoke bombs!" some boys called out as they saw the gas-filled bubbles emerging.

Corona went on: Does dry ice melt, like regular ice? What happens if you touch it?

The children then each got a turn making some of the "bombitas," and also popping bubbles that were frothing out of the top of a second vat of dry ice where soap had been poured in.

Alvarez said parents and children alike were interested in the experiments, which are simple in nature so that they can easily be done again.

"We try to do activities that they can do at home," she said. "Like the T-shirts, everyone has an old shirt at home they can use."

Later in the summer, the parents will learn experiments around measurements, and also do hands-on things like combining corn starch with water to learn about liquids and solids.

"They (the parents) want to learn as much as the kids," Alvarez said.

Rosas said the summer program is open to children who live at the Farm Labor Homes, and are a student in the College Place School District. Middle school-age children attend as "youth mentors" who help with the younger children.

The program is run through Children's Home Society, with funding from a School's Out Washington Feed Your Brain grant. The funding provides activities, as well as meals, to the youth during the summer.

Corona said the summer program has been a huge benefit for the children, not the least of which is her own 7-year-old son.

She said her son started the program two years ago as one of the most challenging, but has changed in a short amount of time. As a result, his reading scores went up and he is now one of the strongest readers for his age in the community.

"This program is very important," Corona said. "They (the children) learn, there's a lot of activities, there's food, and they have fun."

Corona is also vice president of the Friends of Farm Labor Homes Community board, and says she tries to be a liaison with other parents. Corona said she gets that it takes a team to help a child succeed. In her son's case, it was constant communication with his teacher, and with Rosas, who she described as firm but caring and consistent as she oversees the programs.

As a result of the program's successes, more parents are stepping forward to get involved. Corona said it wasn't long ago, before the programming for children arrived, that youth would wander the grounds or get into mischief in the summer months or after school.

"I don't know what we would do without this program," she said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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