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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on July 27, 1999 at 19:40:49:
DALLAS MORNING NEWS (Texas) 22 July 99 Slitherin' science; Camps awaken kids to delights of nature (Eleska Aubespin)
It was lunch time, but not for the summer camp kids huddled around an aquarium. Inside the glass slithered Checkers, a corn snake, who was inspecting her meal.
The kids grimaced, groaned and wailed "gross" but were fascinated as the nearly 4-foot snake swallowed whole two dead mice.
"Oh yeah!" said Josh Howard, 8, as he peered into the tank. "So this is what it's like."
Josh is among nearly 45 children drawn into a world of discovery through eight science camps at the Dallas Museum of Natural History at Fair Park. Offering field trips to ponds and museums - and the chance to get up close and personal with animals - the weeklong camps show young people that learning is a fun adventure.
Monday was the start of "Leapin' Lizards," which studies amphibians and reptiles. By Wednesday, children had looked at frogs, an iguana, turtles and snakes.
Checkers seemed unfazed by the attention Wednesday as Erin Adams held her and allowed the children to touch her. Ms. Adams, the museum's special programs coordinator, told the kids that they could tell that Checkers was shedding her skin because her color had become dull and her eyes cloudy.
Children also learned how to identify poisonous snakes.
"Red touch yellow, kill a fellow," recited Brad Hirsch, 8. "Red touch black, poison lack."
He added a word of warning to those who might discover an eastern coral snake, which typically is found in eastern, southern and Central Texas.
"These are poisonous," Brad said. "So when you see it, run!"
The camps attract children from all over Dallas with a combination of lures, said Dr. Louis L. Jacobs, the museum's interim director.
"It's outside like sports, it's hands-on like sports and it lasts forever like science," Dr. Jacobs said. "This is what we are here for, to bring education to the people of Dallas. And this is the way we can do it."
This week, children dissected a baby shark and investigated an owl pellet - partly digested food that is regurgitated.
"Here, they are getting a connection between the Earth and natural science," said Paulette Cody, a camp teacher who is overseeing a group of 5- and 6-year-olds. "Hopefully we are embedding an idea that will lead them into science."
The museum, which opened in 1936, has offered science classes and camps for more than 30 years. Sometimes, that week of camp helps form a career choice.
Brian Barnette, the museum's chief naturalist, attended summer classes at the museum from age 6 to 13 in the 1960s. The classes met about three times a week to study fossils, mammals, reptiles and birds.
"The program has changed with the times," said Mr. Barnette, 43. "It was something my brothers and sisters went through, too, and was the highlight of the summer."
Mr. Barnette said the classes nudged him toward a career in natural science.
"I got familiar with people at the museum and the museum itself, which eventually led to volunteering and getting on the staff," he said. "I spent so much time here, I always assumed I would end up here."
Dr. Jacobs said he wants more children from the Fair Park and South Dallas neighborhood to attend the camp. With that in mind, museum officials are hoping to attract more sponsors who will pay for camp scholarships to cover the $100 fee. Eight scholarships were awarded this summer.
"Scholarships are a priority, and we are working on getting more so more kids can come," Dr. Jacobs said. "They help us to reach those we normally can't reach."
Deante Toombs, 12, received a scholarship this summer after writing an essay about why he wanted to attend the camp.
"I wanted to interact with others and get to know more about nature," Deante said. "I made sure to get myself in a camp because I didn't want to hassle my parents by staying around the house not doing anything."