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San Francisco's After-School Science Workshops Expanding Nationwide

December 14, 2001

Community Science Workshops (CSW) are spreading nationwide, due to a second $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will enable San Francisco State University (SFSU) and its partners to create CSWs across the U.S.

CSWs, or informal drop-in science centers, were first given life four years ago when SFSU received its initial $3 million grant from NSF. Being self-supported through community partnerships, CSWs spread in 10 underserved California communities in Fresno, San Jose, Los Angeles, Watsonville and Oakland and led to satellite workshops in neighboring communities.

Eight of 15 new sites will be launched in cities including Tucson, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Detroit, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C., with at least one workshop located on or near a Native American reservation. These sites will serve as hubs for developing spinoff sites.

As an informal science program, CSWs have enhanced formal science standards by offering onsite science programs to neighboring schools that generally lack the resources and expertise of their local CSW and staff.

The CSWs serve kids aged 8 to 15 in predominantly minority communities, where they are accessible by foot to local children, and contain interactive exhibits, resident animals, hands-on experiments and workspace in which to "tinker" with all manner of tools. Children, with bilingual staff to supervise, answer questions and teach, are left largely to themselves once embarking on a project.

The Community Science Workshops: A Report on Their Progress, a five-year study commissioned by SFSU and published in January 2000, says CSWs "have succeeded not only in creating places where minority and at-risk youth are motivated to go, but in creating an experience these youth value."

According to the study, conducted by Inverness Research Associates, youth who choose to visit a CSW tend to develop long-term relationships with the site. Almost half of the youth served by CSWs participate at least 50 hours or more in a year, and more than one-third participate for 100 hours or more. Less than one-third take part in a CSW activity for 10 hours or less each year, the report states.

Mission Science Workshop, the original CSW located in San Francisco's inner city Mission District, will serve as the center of the nationwide CSW network, providing leadership and guidance for existing and new sites.

No website yet exists for the CSW network. However, as a primary collaborator with SFSU, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is developing a website and producing how-to materials for setting up CSWs and presenting science concepts to underserved youth. More information on The Community Science Workshops: A Report on Their Progress is available at: http://www.inverness-research.org