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“But Mom! It’s FOR SCIENCE!” [or the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair!]

 

“I’m totally doing this! I’m going to the meeting tomorrow! I need $5 to buy a board! What’s a board?”

My eldest daughter loves science. She has always been the child who came home with a bucket of bugs, and an ecosystem under her fingernails. On wooden rollercoasters, she insists on sitting in the first car so we can be the force of resistance. In her bathroom, she mixes together all the lotions and washes, and lets them sit for weeks on end, hidden in the cabinets, to see what mass of disgusting will form. Yes, word of the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair was well received in our home.

“Tornadoes!” she proclaimed. “Tornadoes! I need a bottle with this top thing and you can make a tornado in a bottle! I don’t know how exactly but it’s going to be amazing!”

Her first draft:  HOW TORNATOS WORK

“Um. That’s not how you spell ‘tornado’.”

“It’s my project!” she replied, indignantly.

“True. But that’s not how you spell ‘tornado’. And if your project is all about tornadoes you should, at the very least, spell the word correctly.”

“It’s my project!” she repeated.

Once in a while, she’d emerge from her room with demands:

“Printer is out of colored ink!”

“Where’s the good quality construction paper?”

“Dad! You have to drink the 2 liter of Pepsi! For science!”

“Mom, I need clear dish soap and glitter!”

“Does Tornadoes have an E in it or is it just tornados?”

“I’m going to make a tornado trivia game! Get ready to play!”

“Mom! Stop cleaning up! It’s for science!”

As she spun through our home, upsetting the contents of every cabinet and drawer, her siblings were sucked into the action because her excitement was contagious. They asked about tornadoes, answered trivia questions about tornadoes, gave encouragement regarding the now rainbow colored background on her tri-board. How much dish soap was too much? What did the dish soap do anyway? Glitter! When did we get glitter in the house? Didn’t Mom ban glitter?

My husband sucked down 2 liters of Pepsi in the name of science and then looked at the directions for the Tornado in a Bottle. I don’t know what happened but when I came back into the kitchen, he had his power tools all over the kitchen table. Seriously.

“This is my project!” she objected.

“I know. I’m just trying to get the bottle to spin really, really fast.” Suffice it to say, two plastic bottles, one pickle jar, 3 bottle tops, and a whole bunch of packing tape were sacrificed in the name of science. The upswing was he actually used that deluxe set of drill bits I bought him for Christmas five years ago.

Eventually, I hid in another room and quietly asked Google the easiest way to make a tornado in a bottle. The YouTube video showed a five year old making said tornado. Without power tools. A five year old.

“I told you Dad!” she yelled in victory. “Can I have the bottle back now? The one without the holes in it?”

It took restraint but he did it. He stood on the other side of the kitchen and let her shake the 2 liter Pepsi bottle until she figured out the right amount of force, swirling, soap and glitter to make a tornado. A real life tornado in a bottle!

“Can you do it over and over again? On Monday night?” her little sister asked anxiously.

“Yes. I think I can. I have all my trivia cards. Does my board look ok? Can I tell you about Tornado Alley? Did you know the US gets over a thousand tornadoes a year?!”

On our way into the gymnasium for the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair, I wondered if the other kids would be as excited as my human Tornato. I’m happy to report the kitchen scientists of KES emitted a palpable excitement. The projects shot through time from the Big Bang to the exploration of Mars, from the core of the Earth to the clouds in the sky, from the tenacity of life to the extinction of the dinosaurs, the “Why”, “How”, “What” and “Can I” were investigated by kids who had questions that demanded answers. Answers to such questions as, “Why Do Birds Have Feathers?”, “How to Make a Flashlight”, and (winner of the most adorable tri-board of the evening) “I Wdr Wut Soogr Ds to Your TFF, Blud, and Blle” (I wonder what sugar does to your teeth, blood, and belly).

The gymnasium was packed not only with the participants and their families but with students and parents who didn’t have to be there but who came down to the school anyway (on a Monday night) to encourage the Student Scientists, and, hopefully, learn something new. Like, a kid can make a battery out of the stuff in the kitchen drawer. Food dye can make daisy petals purple. Sugar rots away egg shell. And what you should do if the sky turns sickly green and grey.

Adults in White Lab Coats (parents and community members who practice science based professions) walked from project to project asking each child about his or her project with interest and kindness. As Dr. Allison Nied (Parent/Pediatrician) said, “We want to get them excited about science. Not intimidate them.” When a White Lab Coat approached, my daughter got serious. She focused on the questions and shared what she learned. As the night went on, she no longer viewed a White Lab Coat as some sort of test. She relaxed, her presentation became more confident, and she became eager to speak with other inquisitive minds. She collected stickers from the White Lab Coats and proudly displayed them on the back of her laminated STUDENT SCIENTIST credentials.

It became clear that the White Lab Coat people and the Student Scientists are a rarified bunch who know that the irrepressible desire to figure out answers cannot be stopped even if it messes up the kitchen, your dad has to drink 2 liters of Pepsi in 15 minutes, or your mom has to make 4 emergency trips to the craft store. It’s For Science!

What did I learn at the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair? All those little nagging curiosities you’ve always had but were never encouraged to answer? Get to it! Figure it out! Make your mess! It’s for a good cause. It’s For Science!

-Anne Foray

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Special Persons Day or Valentine’s Day, whichever you prefer.

Persons” is a strange word. It’s formal, bureaucratic, almost impersonal (ironically). I always want to tack on “of interest” after the word persons. How come it isn’t “Special People Day”?

On Valentine’s Day, I rushed into the gymnasium and met up with Sarah. She’s one of my favorite “people” in the whole wide world. Sarah has babysat my children for nearly a decade. Throughout that time, my children’s fascinations have changed a billion times. They’ve abandoned their baby blankets, desecrated tubs of formally cherished Little People, have changed allegiances to pop stars and television shows. But they never lose interest in Sarah. Sarah comes over every Friday night for 2 hours so my husband and I can go to Costco and glory in the cleanliness and the bright lighting and the huge tubs of cheese. And as the saying goes, “my kingdom for two hours of peace”.

When my second grader came home with the “Special Persons” sheet, she immediately said “Sarah!” She wrote her first name with big looping letters before I gently suggested she first check that Sarah could actually come to her school at 9:30 am on a random Tuesday morning.

“She’ll come,” she answered resolutely.

“She has to go to work,” I retorted.

“She’ll come,” she repeated.

“I’m going to text her.”

“Ok.” Literally, ten seconds later, “So she’s coming then?”

“It’s been 10 seconds. Let’s give her, I don’t know, a day.”

“A day?! Is she out of the country?”

“No. But, shocker, she may have other things to do right this very second.”

“What’s her address? We’re sending her a proper invitation.”

“That’s amazing and I’m so glad but I’m not giving you her address until I know she can come.” This conversation went on until Sarah let me know that she could, indeed, come to Special Persons Day, at which point, I’m fairly certain her invitation was already written, colored in, stickered to the very edges of a paper’s capacity and stuffed into an envelope.

I asked Sarah’s charge, “Isn’t ‘persons’ a strange word?”

Her response, “I think train is a strange word.”

“Awesome. Good talk.”

And as Sarah’s charge took at least seven different dresses out of her closet and began a detailed analysis of how much red is “too much red”, I immediately began debating the word “persons”.

According to the Google, “persons” and “people” have different Latin roots. “People” refers more to a nameless, faceless populace. “Persons” is rooted in persona, or the autonomous individual. Ok. Two points for “persons”.

From my understanding, persons become people when we forget that they are individuals with likes and dislikes, habits and hang-ups. It’s easy to dismiss persons as people when wandering through the grocery, or waiting on line at the DMV, or when I go about my day in a self-involved fog.

And so, as an army of 7 year olds came marching through the gymnasium clad in red and pink and white and black, I looked around at the well-lived faces of parents, grandparents, family members, care givers, neighbors, and friends. Each weathered face beamed at the sight of this Army of Love as they sang songs spanning the spectrum of loyalty, devotion, friendship. And phones were held high to record every millisecond of this tribute.

As one well-pressed khaki clad announcer said, a good person makes life a whole lot easier. Because as we all know, life can be rough. But from the beaming looks of pride, happiness, and encouragement, it seemed to me that the well-lived faces around me had made life fun, meaningful, educational, and easier to each child on the stage.

I stared at my second grader. She was clad in a whole lot of red velvet. Her well-brushed hair was held neatly by a turquoise headband. [Turquoise was a deliberate choice. You know, for a “pop of color”]. This 7 year old never let on that she had learned so many songs. Not just the lyrics but the sign language! She didn’t come home and whine that she needed help or that she didn’t want to do it. No. This was a very special tribute to a very special person in her individual life. Sarah. And she was going to do it right.

After a remarkably complex performance, Sarah (and I) were invited back to her classroom for a personal recitation detailing why Sarah is, indeed, “special”. Of course, upon entering the classroom, my daughter ran right past me and hugged Sarah and led her to a chair of honor. I was told to stand in the back.

As I listened to each child read their public declaration of appreciation, I formally decided the name of the day can’t be “Special People” day because people, as a whole, are not special. They are nameless, faceless, a mass of humanity. And people don’t teach a child to grow a garden. People don’t make a child laugh uncontrollably. People can’t love unconditionally.

But a person can teach a child how to make a cat’s cradle out of bakery string. A person can play monopoly until the sun goes down. A person can build a Lego castle and not cringe when a child decides a tornado is going to destroy it. A person can let you crack the eggs in the brownie batter. A person, one lone person, can make the monotony of life joyous, electric, and filled with love.

That one person, that Sarah, makes our world better, child by child, and memory by memory.

After the presentations, my daughter went from table to table trying to figure out how many cookies she could possibly stuff into her mouth before I told her to stop. Naturally, she made a plate for Sarah too. And told me, rather bluntly, “You should leave Mom. This event is really for me and my special person.

Anne Foray

 

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KES Philanthropy Project- Holiday Sharing

  • “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu

I’m always trying to help connect the dots for my little ones when it comes to the big ideas of charitable acts. I jump at the slightest thought my five year old has about giving back. From baking muffins for the fire department or cleaning up trash on the sidewalk in town, or to just holding the door for strangers. It gets challenging coming up with ways to resonate with elementary school children whose whole world is generally five feet in front of their nose and nothing more. This idea that there is more to care about then just yourself and that we are all part of greater communities is tough to understand when you are just three and a half feet tall. The trick is to engage, motivate and give them ownership, which seems to be the trifecta of getting anyone actively involved in anything really. But there is a structure provided by the Parent Teacher Organization at KES that provides the children that opportunity to be selfless, learn how to give and become active members of their community.

The Holiday Sharing drives at KES for Thanksgiving and the December holidays provided the students a chance to take action and donate either nonperishable food items for The Northern Westchester Community Center in November and pajamas, family games and books for our own KES community in December. As the boxes outside their classroom filled up, the students were reminded of the need in the community and the fun of participating and helping those bins overflow. But the best part is, the giving didn’t stop there.

Once the bins of food were filled for the Thanksgiving food drive, the students were invited to walk the school halls after hours and collect the bins for delivery, which, for my kindergartener, was a thrilling act of independence. Once the food bins were loaded into our cars, the students caravanned down the hill to the Community Center where they were invited inside to weigh in their donations and to stock the shelves.

Have you ever had that moment with your young child where you let them use the Magic Eraser or a spray bottle of Windex or a handheld vacuum for the first time and they spend the next 90 minutes excitedly cleaning every spot in your home while you watch in shock? It’s like they go crazy for their new responsibility and step up in the food chain because they were allowed to play the part of an adult! That’s what it was like watching the KES students at the Community Center. They were full of excited energy at the chance to do some heavy lifting and shelf organization. But really, they felt empowered to help and participate in an action bigger then themselves. This is the moment where their action becomes ownership over their learning and hopefully they feel that they are capable of making a difference. And maybe, just maybe, a few kids left feeling a responsibility, or how great it will feel, to give again.

               

 

November 17, 2016 – After school food delivery to the Northern Westchester Community Center.

And much like the action of delivering and stocking the food at The Northern Westchester Community Center, the students were given the chance to wrap the games and books collected during the December holiday giving drive. Empowering the children to wrap the donated holiday gifts for those in need in their own community adds that extra layer active giving. Delivering a donated item is helpful and gives the students a sense of accomplishment, but I was very impressed with how many students came to school on a weekday evening to take that extra step to wrap, some learning the art of gift wrapping for the first time, and bag the gifts for those in need. The action seems so simple and didn’t take the group more then an hour to complete yet it’s powerful when young people chose caring for their community over their daily routine. It left such a positive impression on me just witnessing the kids, so enthusiastic to help, and very happy to be part of the KES community.

The holiday Gift Drive sponsored by the PTO for nearly 15 years. Pajamas and socks were collected by the kindergarten classes for The Northern Westchester Community Center, and first through fifth grades collected books and family games for the families in our own KES community.

December 19, 2016 – Holiday Sharing Wrap Night in the KES cafeteria

Chaired by Michelle Bieber & Beth Nevins

-Samantha Holcman