Monday, July 8, 2013

Science Camp – A job well done

Alessio and Skye have now completed the last day of science camp in Barrow. It ended on a positive note. All the kids completed a poster in which they summarized what they had learned during the week. Alessio writes that “Yesterday night we were a little worried about this final day. Were we asking too much? Will the kids be understandably tired of working after 6 days?” Not surprisingly, some of them needed a lot of encouragement to get their posters completed, a project that required anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of solid work, with little distraction. Alessio admits what they did not want to do was end the camp with kids struggling to get their posters done. With a lot of determination, the kids took the bull by the horns and did their very best to produce nice posters which were then proudly displayed for their peers.

Thus, with modest fanfare the Earth Science camp came to an end. It was quite an adventure for Alessio. This journey began in January, with the drafting of an initial proposal, continued with the planning of all the activities and ended up in Barrow, in the great Arctic summer, surrounded by the joyous laughs of 10 kids. Alessio mentioned that he “did not know why he and Skye ended up doing this camp. On many occasions, while studying in Fairbanks, he heard about the “other Alaska”, the rural Alaska, the Alaska that goes forward in remote places, in small native communities.” Apparently curiosity did get the best of him and the science camp became a reality. And what better than a summer camp with rural youths to learn something about this world?  

And, according to Alessio, something indeed was learned. “First, we now have our Eskimo names: my name is Ukpik, it means snowy-owl and Skye’s name is Ugruk, bearded seal. Second, I have come to realize that middle school students are an immense source of fun. You can spark their excitement with pretty much everything. It is, however, a very short, intense fire, as they tend to get bored pretty quick. Never drop the guard or you will lose them. Third, offering opportunities to youths is an incredibly noble and rewarding act. Ilisagvik offers camps for middle and high-school kids throughout the entire summer. Earth Science, Land resource, Photo-journalism, Inupiat values, construction camp and so forth. It is essential to inspire youths. Fourth, our best lesson all week; Tunnel Man was awesome!” Alessio admits that the kids grew a little tired of his attempts to explain permafrost. However, with the help of Tunnel Man, all of a sudden the interest level of the kids increased a notch. What was a boring message imparted so succinctly by their teacher with a strange Italian accent, became a mysterious Alaskan superhero, a dude that mushes across frozen rivers, visits their villages, traverses the Arctic, and raps about permafrost.” Alessio spotted a few of the kids independently watching Tunnel Man on their IPhone after class. He speculates that if we want to communicate climate change and educate the next generation on Arctic science, perhaps we need to elicit the assistance of Sea Ice Woman, Ecosystem Crusader, Glacier Dude, and the Snow Drifter.

Finally, Alessio closes by saying that his “…personal map of Alaska has now been enriched by Point Lay, Point Hope, Wainwright, and White Mountain. I did not actually go to these places, but I have the smiles of their kids well fixed in my memory.”  Alessio concludes by thanking Illisagvik College, Exxon Mobile, Conoco Phillips, the Alaska Climate Science Center, and the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), University of Alaska Fairbanks for sponsoring this science camp.