In­de­pen­dence School hosts STEM Fest

Newark Post - - Local News - By JES­SICA IAN­NETTA jian­netta@ches­pub.com

The halls of The In­de­pen­dence School last week were filled with the sounds of bal­loons burst­ing, bub­bles pop­ping and dol­lar bills burn­ing.

The Michi­gan Tech Mind Trekkers were back in town.

The Mind Trekkers, a group of un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents from Michi­gan Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, brought their road show of more than 40 in­ter­ac­tive STEM-re­lated ex­per­i­ments to the school on April 14, much to the de­light of about 650 Ne­wark kids and their fam­i­lies.

“It’s amaz­ing,” said Tasha Tay­lor of Ne­wark, shortly af­ter watch­ing her 4-year-old daugh­ter Ava stand in­side a gi­ant bub­ble. “It’s a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Tay­lor and her three chil­dren were just some of the peo­ple able to se­cure tick­ets to STEM Fest, which was open to both In­de­pen­dence School fam­i­lies and the gen­eral pub­lic at no cost. The Mind Trekkers first came to the school in 2014, when about 450 peo­ple came. This time, the school capped at­ten­dance at 650 and still sold out, said Head of School Vicky Yatzus.

Yatzus at­trib­uted the suc­cess of the event to Mind Trekkers’ hands-on ap­proach and said the school hopes kids come away ex­cited about sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math fields.

“They re­al­ize STEM isn’t just math and test tubes,” she said. “It’s all kinds of things.”

At the event, some of those things in­cluded burn­ing a dol­lar bill with­out char­ring it, build­ing boats out of alu­minum foil, fire­proof­ing an or­di­nary bal­loon and cre­at­ing a gi­ant bub­ble big enough for kids to stand in­side.

Af­ter a brief in­tro­duc­tion by Yatzus, at­ten­dees were free to ex­pe­ri­ence STEM Fest at their own pace and choose which ex­per­i­ments to watch or take part in. While many of the ex­per­i­ments were run by the Mind Trekkers, oth­ers were run by In­de­pen­dence School alumni and par­ents.

Parental in­volve­ment is also how the Mind Trekkers came to the school in the first place. About three years ago, a group of par­ents at the school started the Grow­ing STEM com­mit­tee, which works to ex­pand STEM op­por­tu­ni­ties at the school.

The group was look­ing to host a STEM event and found out about the Mind Trekkers while do­ing re­search on­line. In 2014, the Mind Trekkers were able to stop in Ne­wark on their way to the U.S. Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing Fes­ti­val and the tim­ing worked out well for them to do the same thing this year, said Dr. Kieran Con­nolly, an ear, nose and throat doc­tor who has three stu­dents at the school, and was one of the co-chairs of the STEM Fest com­mit­tee.

“We like the hands-on as­pect be­cause it’s fun, and kids re­mem­ber what’s fun,” he said.

Part of that fun for many kids was watch­ing the ex­per­i­ments in­volv­ing fire or ex­plo­sions, which typ­i­cally had some of the larger crowds. Zoe Sut­ton, one of the Mind Trekkers, was run­ning an ex­per­i­ment that shows stu­dents how to burn a dol­lar bill with­out char­ring it.

The se­cret, she said, is a wa­ter and al­co­hol mix­ture coated on the bill. While the highly flammable al­co­hol burns, the wa­ter keeps the bill damp enough that the bill it­self doesn’t burn.

“I love the looks on kids’ faces when they see some­thing they can’t ini­tially ex­plain,” Sut­ton said.

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