New program brings learning, interaction for 3rd and 4th graders at Penn Park

Scott Girard:

A group of eight third- and fourth-graders sat around a bucket of water on a recent Wednesday morning, waiting for Richard Jones Jr. to drop in a cantaloupe and watch whether it would float or sink.

Before Jones Jr. made the drop, he asked the students: Sink or float? They needed to make a guess — or, as it’s called in the scientific method process they were learning, a hypothesis. A mix of responses filled the air as they observed the next step in the method — experiment — and eventually the final step: a conclusion about what made certain foods float.

The lesson was one of many the group will learn this summer through the S²MARTLY in the Park summer learning program, sponsored by Mt. Zion Baptist Church and led by a group of educators hoping to help students avoid a “summer slide” amid an unprecedented time in education. The activities are focused on science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — and taught three mornings a week over a three-hour, outdoor class at Penn Park.

They also highlight successful African Americans in STEM and other fields to create a culturally relevant curriculum for the mostly Black students in the program.