EMPOWER PLACE SCIENTIST BY JORDAN FERNANDEZ
May 1, 2019
As the spring floats in briskly with the cloud spotted sky, Missoula slowly waves goodbye to winter. In with the sun through the windows of EMPower Place, we find ourselves at the after school club, on a Thursday evening. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, EMPower Place hosts programming with cooking classes for kids, science activities and much needed post formal education play. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week, because I get to host the science activity. These children usually go bananas over the activity, it gets a little out of hand.
A couple of weeks into April, we were running an activity on DNA extraction of strawberries. This is one of the more difficult activity for the small ones, who are usually the crowd at EMPower Pplace. Mind you, most of the kids that come to after school club are preschool to second grade. The DNA activity also requires patients, which we all hopefully get to learn throughout life. As you may remember, being cooped up in school all day, doesn’t make listening very easy. Our poor parents can probably attest to this claim.
So, how do we make sure everyone receives a positive experience before heading home you ask? We’ll I have to be prepared and it helps to have my colleagues back me up when I’m struggling, which I was that day.
DNA from strawberries? You mean you want to make Jam with second graders? So the process is, have the kids put previously frozen strawberries in a landfill bag. Ok, now, zip the plastic closed and mash up those berries with a solution of water, dish soap and a bit of salt. The kids love this part. Next, you put the strawberries in a coffee filter and wait for the mixture to drip through to the bottom of a beaker. Ok, add isopropyl alcohol and wait. Essentially you are breaking down the strawberry to a more basic form. If you actually want to do this, you can find videos on YouTube for precise measurements.
After a few cycles of kids extracting DNA, one of the children that had been assisting me, asked me a question that I wasn’t ready for. She paused on her tenth extraction of the hour, while also helping other kids and exclaimed, “Are you a real scientist?” Some of the other kids around the table became apparently aware of the conversation and awaited my answer. Before I could even think of a response, that same second grader who asked the question said, “I think you are a scientist.” She smiled and went back to what she was doing. It’s almost as if she could tell I was stressed that day and I needed a confidence boost. It reminded me, how a simple encouraging comment can mean so much. Sappy? I know right? I didn’t feel like a scientist, with my liberal arts degree and my zero hours of lab work. She reminded me that we can be whatever we want to be in life, that we just have to believe in ourselves and others.
As much as I would like to say that I am serving this community with my forty hour weeks of service, I feel as though sometimes, I am the one being served. I look forward to Monday mornings, because I get to hang out with curious growing toddlers. Science Tuesdays, I get to hang out with Dr. Amanda. Wednesdays are easier to get through when I can conversate and receive life advice from mothers, post Tiny Tales. My colleagues are some of the sweetest and understanding people. Honestly, every day of the week has its appeal, sometimes it just takes a little reminder.