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Saturday classes teach girls the magic of science


Kailee Hall, 9, a 4th-grader at Brock Road Elementary School, holds a flashlight that she and classmates made by designing a continuous circuit powered by D batteries. / Photo by Reza Marvashti

Olivia Foster, a fourth-grader at Ferry Farm  Elementary, wants to engineer spaceships.

She’s doing a project for school on black holes, and last Saturday  she took part in a class in which she got to build her own flashlight, test robots and learn about electricity and all the components of a computer.

“It’s really cool to learn how things work,” Olivia  said.

Olivia was one of about 25 students who attended Science Saturdays, a program for elementary- and middle-school-age girls designed to foster a love of science.

Science Saturdays—sponsored by Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine and hosted at Germanna Community College—is in its third year.

The program offers classes in biology, engineering, chemistry and physics.

Victoria McCollum, who organizes the program, said she hopes it encourages girls to enter STEM careers—those in science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s where jobs are available,” she said. “Especially in this area.”

She said that the classes these girls take in middle school will affect what they can take in high school and, ultimately, college.

“We want these young women to be empowered to do what they want to do,” McCollum said.

In the first two seasons of the program, more than 100 girls took part, McCollum said.

Last Saturday, the girls divided into groups of four and rotated between activities pertaining to electrical engineering.

Fourth-grader Kailee Hall, fifth-graders Emma Reese and Sugar Cassett and seventh-grader Sierra Gibson were grouped together.

“It’s super cool,” said Sierra. “A lot better than plain old science class. We get to build things, not just talk.”

All of the instructors for the class were professional engineers. 

Retired engineer John Cross demonstrated the relationship between electricity and magnetism by attaching an electric current to coils.

Lynn Simms, who is an engineer at Sentel Corp. in King George County led the class, showed them how to make flashlights out of household items and how to create circuits.

Later, they talked to teacher Scott Howard, who took apart a computer and explained how each part functions.

“The processor is like the brain, the memory is like short-term memory and the hard drive is like long-term memory,” Howard told the girls.

Another teacher, Jane Bachman, explained the different jobs available in robotics and helped them test robots.

“I think it’s great to give them an example of who has these jobs,” Bachman said. “It’s important to inspire them.”

Science Saturdays got a boost earlier this year when the program received  an $8,000 grant from Community Foundation for the Rappahannock River Region’s women and girls fund—to add more classes and hire new teachers.

Lisa Biever, program officer for CFRRR, said Science Saturdays is an exciting program to invest funds in.

“It is creating an opportunity that area girls might not have access to otherwise,” Biever said.

“Particularly for girls, there is a perception that these are not things that girls do. It’s neat for girls to see women in those roles and get hands-on experience.”

With the funds, the program will hire two new teachers for their spring season and add a mini-medical school.

The girls will learn about different systems in the body and dissect an eyeball, a heart and a brain.

For McCollum and the other women who created the program, exposing their daughters to science isn’t just a fun way to spend a Saturday.

“We want them to be able to support families on their own if they have to,” McCollum said. “Having that interest in a field is the first step to them being able to be financially independent.”

Lindley Estes:  540/735-1976


Want to enroll you daughter in Science Saturdays?

To sign up, go to fredericksburgpar and search for “Science Saturdays.” Or email Victoria McCollum at victoria@fredericksburg

The cost is $20 for regular classes, $25 for mini medical school. Scholarships are available.