5th-Graders Participate in Science Activities on Earth Day

BioNetwork's Bethany Kenyon teaches students from Falkland and Northwest elementary schools about bioplastics by showing them how to make plastic beads from milk. The activity showed the students how bioplastic alternatives can be better for the planet.

WINTERVILLE—Students from a pair of Pitt County elementary schools visited the Pitt Community College campus this month to participate in “Crayons to College,” an event designed to introduce them to STEM-related career fields.

Held April 22 in the Walter & Marie Williams Building, “Crayons to College” featured PCC science instructors leading fifth-graders from Falkland and Northwest elementary schools through a series of hands-on STEM activities. PCC, Pitt County Schools and the N.C. BioNetwork collaborated on the program, which was part of AVID’s (Advancement Via Individual Determination) efforts to foster educational equity and improve college graduation rates “among diverse and underrepresented” demographic groups.

“This event was a great way to showcase Pitt Community College to a group of students who may have previously thought college wouldn’t be an option for them,” said PCC Biotechnology Department Chair Christina Weeks. “They all seemed so impressed with the campus, the building, the classes—and that was before we even started doing activities.”

Weeks said the students rotated through five activities during their visit, each with an Earth Day theme. In addition to learning about photosynthesis, bioplastics, the water cycle, and how physical and chemical sunscreens protect against UV radiation, she said they made preparations to participate in the Tomatosphere program.

“It was an opportunity for them to learn some cool science and see how science can be fun,” she said. “It was a great event, and the kids went home tired and happy with lots of stories to tell their parents about science and Pitt Community College.”

Started in 2001, more than three million students have taken part in the Tomatosphere program, an award-winning initiative that has helped scientists investigate the effects of outer space on food needed to support long-term human space travel.

For the next several months, the students who visited PCC will be comparing tomato seeds that spent six weeks on the International Space Station to a “control” set that never left Earth. Their teachers can submit data from their classes online until January 2023.