Monday, April 12, 2010

Youth Exploring Science—A Model for Youth Success

In case you missed the article on our current featured member, the Saint Louis Science Center, in this month's newsletter, we are re-posting it here for your enjoyment.

Youth Exploring Science—A Model for Youth Success

by Rachel D. Mahan

On Saturdays when most teenagers are still in bed, up to 200 teens facing multiple risks can be found growing plants hydroponically, fashioning star-shaped violins, and tracking climate change using frog calls. Most of these teenagers are minority students, often from neighborhoods where poverty and violence prevail. They are a part of the Youth Exploring Science (YES) program at the Saint Louis Science Center in Missouri.

Now a national model, YES is a four-year program that weaves together science concepts, inquiry-based learning, workplace skills, and college preparation. On Saturdays during the school year and daily during the summer, staff members train teens in science concepts and workplace and college skills. In turn, the teens teach these science concepts to visitors and community members.

“Today in SAS [Science After School, a YES component] we did our presentation. In my group we did an activity called bubble art, and we had to make art with paint, soap, water, and paper. It was very fun and I want to teach kids how to do it. I really think they will like it,” wrote* William, a YES teen.

The benefits go beyond the crucial hands-on science education experience. While the graduation rate for African American students in St. Louis was close to 50% in 2008, 100% of YES seniors graduated from high school. That same year, 32 of the 34 YES seniors went on to post-secondary education. These numbers remain consistent from year to year. Further, the Science Center employs several former YES teens as educators in the program.

YES was begun with 15 teens facing multiple risks in 1998 by Diane Miller, currently Senior Vice President of Schools and Community Partnerships at the Saint Louis Science Center. To be admitted, underserved youth are nominated by community-based organizations, such as community centers, at age 14.

Through their senior year in high school, the teens work and learn in one of six components. For example, Environmental Health Advocate teens are testing the effects of different growing methods on plants, Design It teens are learning to make violins from a professional violin craftsman, and Communicating Climate Change teens monitor the mating calls of frogs to help scientists understand climate change.

In addition, YES teens routinely take field trips to local, world-renowned institutions, such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, and the Missouri History Museum. YES also attracts internationally known presenters, such as S. James Gates, Jr., an African American physicist who is one of the President’s science advisors.

After Gates and other physicists visited, a YES teen named Justin wrote*: “But the last guy we met had told me he saw something in me because I was in honors physics and whatnot (no big deal or anything). But what he did for a living sounded cool and made me question myself on what do I really want to do for the rest of my life.”

The Youth Exploring Science program is not a place where future Professor Gateses are made; it is where future Professor Ariels (who is planning to major in biochemistry next year) and future Dr. KiOnteys (who will be pre-med next year) are made. Read more of their words at

*Author’s note: Teen blog entries have been edited for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

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