Education, community outreach converge at Walla Walla library

Whitman READS connects college faculty with youngsters at the library.


Whitman College professor of geology and environmental studies Bob Carson presents “Volcanoes and Mount St. Helens” as part of Whitman READS at the Walla Walla Public Library.

Whitman College professor of geology and environmental studies Bob Carson presents “Volcanoes and Mount St. Helens” as part of Whitman READS at the Walla Walla Public Library. Photo by Joe Tierney.

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Whitman READS

The third and final session of the Whitman READS program will be Dec. 5 from 3-3:45 p.m. at the Walla Walla Public Library, 238 E. Alder St. Assistant professor of psychology Erin Pahlke will talk about diversity in "All The Colors That We Are."

WALLA WALLA -- There is only one mountain Bob Carson has scaled twice in his life. And between that first climb and the second, this particular mountain underwent an explosive transformation.

For Carson, professor of geology and environmental studies at Whitman College, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was a chance to teach and learn from witnessing an active volcano in the backyard of his own state.

Carson shared that knowledge Wednesday at the Walla Walla Public Library, where the children's section became a virtual classroom.

Close to 30 children of different ages pulled up chairs, sat on cushions or found room on the floor to experience the Mount St. Helens eruption with Carson as guide.

The "Volcanoes and Mount St. Helens" presentation was the second in the Whitman READS fall program, held at the city library. The free sessions are geared for elementary-aged children, and are made possible in part by the Whitman Student Engagement Center.

Abby Juhasz, interim community service coordinator, said Whitman READS started over the summer as a community outreach program. It initially focused on reading, but soon evolved to include hands-on lessons and activities.

Mary Burt, Whitman's science outreach coordinator, connected with Young People's Librarian Elizabeth George to launch the summer series. Burt was one of the summer's weekly presenters, teaching children how to make ice cream using dry ice.

Burt's presentation was a memorable one for Christina Magnaghi, who has brought her five children to the Whitman READS programs since they started.

Magnaghi said the ice-cream lesson and the day's volcano lesson, were particular standouts.

"These ones were the most popular with my kids," she said.

Mount St. Helens began churning and spitting out steam over several weeks before finally exploding on the morning of May 18, 1980. The eruption spread ash for hundreds of miles.

"The cloud is so thick and there's so much ash in it, it turns day into night," Carson described.

The youth exclaimed as Carson showed slides of the volcano before, during and after its eruption. The force of the blast, shooting out at 200 miles an hour, also uprooted trees and displaced Spirit Lake.

"There was so much static electricity that forest fires started," Carson said. Perhaps most dramatically, the eruption literally blew the top off the mountain, leaving a crater in its place. The crater cracked several years later, releasing magma, and eventually developing a lava dome.

The lesson ended with a hands-on demonstration of the volcano eruption and crater formation. A partially inflated balloon was placed in a dish with vinegar and dish soap, then buried in a mound of damp sand. Baking soda was sprinkled over the top to simulate snow caps.

Then with a poke of a knife through the sand, the balloon popped, leaving a crater where there had once been a peak.

Magnaghi said her 6-year-old was attentive, and even her 4-year-old did well listening.

"This one was fantastic," she said. "He did a good job. It was really great."

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