UNC: Breaking barriers through science and summer enrichment

Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is extending its mission outside its Chapel Hill facility this summer by bringing free science education and interactive STEM learning to children across North Carolina.

GSK Science in the Summer — a partnership between Morehead and health care company GlaxoSmithKline — offers science programs to elementary and middle school-aged students in 11 counties across our state, including Alamance, Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Orange, Vance and Wake. The program aims to spark a lifelong passion for science and inspire the next generation of scientists.

“Morehead understands that there are barriers surrounding coming to Chapel Hill physically,” said Glenda Hairston, the youth and family programs manager at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. “To remove those barriers, we need to take our content and our programming beyond Chapel Hill.”

The program is centered around serving North Carolina’s students, with a particular focus on children from historically marginalized backgrounds. Hairston and her team pride themselves on not adhering to a “one-size-fits-all model” program by filling the unique needs of students throughout the state and ensuring that the GSK Science in the Summer community is afforded valuable, engaging and accessible experiences all summer.

“We aim to make sure that children who historically have not been represented in science and STEM fields have the access and opportunity to do so through this program,” Hairston said.

Each year, the summer program explores a new theme. With this year’s theme, “Be a Biologist: Discover the World Around You,” the campers’ curiosity is amplified through learning more about the Earth’s plants, animals and other life forms by participating in crafts, interactive activities and group discussions.

“Since it’s such a broad topic, we approach it from lots of angles,” said Annie Sider, lead coordinator for the GSK Science in the Summer. “Each day kind of has a different focus.”

From seeing children enjoy the curriculum to watching them connect with their peers, Hairston describes the impact of this year’s program planning as a “fruit of their effort.”

“Traveling to different camps in different areas within those 11 counties and seeing the excitement in both the educators and high school assistants that lead the camp and campers is always my greatest joy,” Hairston said. “Seeing children literally have a shift in the paradigm of how they perceive science is also really rewarding for me.”

The impact of GSK Science in the Summer doesn’t just stop with the campers.

The program hires and trains educators and high school students to lead the camps, which served more than 3,000 children through 161 camps this summer. Throughout the planning process, Hairston and her team train camp staff on the summer’s curriculum and additional policies.

“Meeting teachers and high school students from across the state and hearing their perspectives on how they adapt the curriculum was such an invaluable benefit while working with this program and the people we hire to execute it,” Hairston said. “We pride ourselves on being able to support teachers during their academic year as well. Beyond the summer experience, they can take the activities that they lead during Science in the Summer and integrate it into their classroom coursework during the academic year.”

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is expanding on its camps by partnering with Johnston County Public Schools to incorporate GSK Science in the Summer into nine schools’ summer school day curriculum. Through the new collaboration, summer school students have an alternate approach to learning math and science through interactive activities while gaining knowledge to help them during the upcoming academic year.

“Learning loss can be a consequence for some during the summer months,” Hairston said. “Having those enriching learning experiences in the summer helps combat that.”