As educators continue to encourage students to pursue STEM subjects and careers, one summer program seeks to boost math and science learning for students in grades 7-12. On a recent visit to camp, The News Tribune staff writer, Leah Traxel found an inspiring mix of students dissecting salmon carcasses. some students took to the task like fish to water (pardon the pun), others fought through bouts of squeamishness to get the job done.  

With what seemed almost surgical precision, Navi Esparza and Kaitlin Tea removed the digestive tract from the salmon carcass on the table before them.

Across from the 13-year-olds, Semaj Floyd sang, “I Will Survive” to himself to keep from getting squeamish while performing the same task.

The students were three of 57 in the University of Puget Sound’s Summer Academic Challenge. It is part of UPS’s Access Programs, which provide activities and events to promote learning in science and math and increase minority representation in higher education.

The 23-year-old summer program partners with Tacoma Public Schools to provide science- and math-based classes to local students in grades seven to 12.

Esparza, Tea, Floyd and 15 other students are in the class for seventh- and eighth-graders studying “The Life Cycles of Salmon.” The fishy activity was part of an anatomy lesson. Over the course of the 20-day class, the students learn about different parts of a salmon’s life cycle, and how humans affect it.

“In regular school, we do homework, correct it, do more homework, correct it, and do that over and over again,” said Esparza, who applied this year after hearing about how much fun his twin brother, Adan, had the previous year. “We rarely ever do these kinds of activities at school.”

Alejandra Rios, the instructor, agreed the summer program is very different from regular school.

“Their retention is much more than I anticipated,” said Rios, a math teacher from the Highline School District. “I have no behavior problems with any kids, because they all want to be here.”

Rios also has the help of three teaching assistants to ensure that the student-to-instructor ratio is low. The teachers, assistants and students all apply to be in the program.

Continue reading Getting hands-on with science — and fish guts

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