By Bill Coats
On the night of April 14 and 15, children from low-income families slept together on the floor.
But they weren’t complaining. They slept at the Kennedy Space Center. The retired Space Shuttle Atlantis was suspended overhead. The next day, they would compete with 80 other school teams in the annual Florida Elementary Science Olympiad.
The two-day experience was a reward to the best science students at RCMA Wimauma Academy. It was made possible through a grant from Sun City Center’s Interfaith Social Action Council for field trips at the K-5 charter school, and its sister middle school, RCMA Leadership Academy.
“It was a great experience, and a great motivator, for the students,” said Julie Munger, a fourth-grade teacher who chaperoned. “They had to work hard in class, and they had to do assignments in preparation for the competition.”
The Academies are operated by the Immokalee-based Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which also runs 67 child-care centers in 21 Florida counties. All cater to rural low-income families. Most of those families – and nearly all at the Academies – are led by Hispanic farm workers.
The many disadvantages faced by their children include a shortage of experiences that contribute to a child’s background knowledge. An Interfaith grant of $8,855 in March was one of the largest field-trip grants that the Academies ever received.
Some $2,300 of it paid the school’s entrance fees for the Science Olympiad. The academies have plans for other trips drawing on the remaining $7,500. They include the Museum of Science and Industry, the Tampa Children’s Museum, the Busch Gardens Zoo School, the Florida Aquarium and the Dali Museum.
At the Kennedy Space Center, the students plunged into a dozen competitions. Two involved designing and building water rockets and model bridges. Students identified scientific terms.
At the end, the Wimauma team finished in 32nd place based on points scored.
“They came back tired – and proud,” Munger said. “They had learned a lot of science just to make the team. But they also learned a lot during the Olympiad.”