Michael Questa

Allegany-Limestone Elementary School students Michael Questa (from left), Ella Oldham and Abby Crawford conduct an acid-base experiment with red cabbage during Wednesday’s session for the school’s new science club. In the background is instructor, Dr. Scott Simpson of St. Bonaventure University.

ALLEGANY — On days she has to do anything science-y at Allegany-Limestone Elementary School, Ella Oldham wears her white lab jacket and safety goggles to ensure she is ready for all experiments.

As it turns out, Ella — described by staff as an “inquisitive junior scientist” — is the reason the campus has a science club for fourth-graders, as she persuaded administrators to organize the after-school program. The pilot program, which staff thought would attract just a few students, currently has 32 youngsters enrolled.

“This is really cool,” Ella said when asked what she thought of the club she formed.

Teacher Corinne Quinn, who serves as co-adviser for the club and coordinator for Alternative Learning Paths for Students, provided background on the formation of the program and Ella’s involvement.

“Ella has a true passion for science, and was disappointed that our school didn't have a program to support this interest,” Quinn recalled. “She spoke with her parents (Whitney and Micah) who encouraged her to reach out to our principal, Kim Moore. Ella collected signatures to show there was a strong interest among her peers as well, then presented her request to start a science club.”

From there, the principal took the idea to Superintendent Tony Giannicchi earlier in the school year, who thought the proposal “was a fantastic idea.”

At that point, administrators asked for volunteers to advise the students. The request prompted Quinn and the club’s co-adviser, Rosemarie Grainer, to reach out to Dr. Scott Simpson and Dr. Kellie Gast of St. Bonaventure University’s chemistry department. The two professors are familiar with the school as they participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics outreach for elementary schools, and were themselves searching for more partners.

“Dr. Simpson and Dr. Gast work with educators to develop science-related curriculum to be utilized in the classrooms during their visits,” Quinn explained. “They focus on aligning hands-on activities with State Standards for the appropriate grade level. After our chemistry unit, we will be moving to robotics/coding, engineering/technology and biology units of study.”

Quinn said the school will assess how well the pilot program works this year and may charter it as a regular club next year.

“Next year, we’re hopeful that we can continue on with this program and maybe open it to other grade levels,” she added.

Simpson and Gast said they enjoy working with the classrooms during the day as well as conducting the after-school program.

“They contacted me about the science club meetings, and that’s why Dr. Gast and I came,” Simpson said. “And actually I’m friends with (Ella’s) father.”

Simpson said he is a graduate of Allegany-Limestone High School, “so coming back to serve my community is something I’m very happy to do.”

He and Gast are able to work with students at the school as St. Bonaventure is flexible with their schedules.

“I usually have to coordinate to come in, but St. Bonaventure is very supportive of me coming in to the classrooms,” Simpson remarked. Gast said she, too, visits the elementary school when she isn’t lecturing at the university.

During his instruction with the club Wednesday, Simpson had the students experiment with acid-base chemistry.

“Every student is this classroom will deal with pH sometime,” he added. “I’m going to expose them to that a little bit. It also gets them continually interested in science.”

During the experiment, Simpson had three students, who included Ella, rip up red cabbage leaves and blend them into a fine mix with deionized water before adding acid and base liquids to gage the reaction. Gast also did an experiment using an invisible ink material and showed how spraying a bottle of window cleaner on the ink made it reappear on the paper.

The reaction from the students during both experiments was one of awe.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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