One student poses in front of bird wing display. [photo by Sarah Swenson]

By Maclaine Willett, editor-in-chief

On Saturday, March 19, the Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) teamed up with the Nantucket Community School to host the annual Maria Mitchell Science Festival from 10 am to 2 pm. This yearly event allows for the youth to participate in many different, interactive exhibits as they walk around the gym to the different tables. This year’s theme was “Coast, Climate, and Curiosity!” and it was a great success. There were 14 organizations from all over the community that participated to help lead the day full of discovery and inquiry.

Some of the science groups that contributed include the Linda Loring Foundation; the Nantucket Conservation Foundation; the Nantucket Shellfish Association; Nantucket Footprints; the Nantucket Land Council; Envision Resilience Nantucket; Re-Main; UMASS Boston; the Egan Maritime Institute; the Nantucket New School, who sent winners of their annual STEM-X (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Exhibition) project fair; Umass Boston; the Nantucket Atheneum; and the Nantucket Youth Climate Committee (NYCC), backed by Mass Audubon. All of these community members, and representatives from the Maria Mitchell Foundation of course, came together to put on an event for families for informational entertainment and inspiring curiosity.

Anna Popnikolova, a sophomore at NHS, was a participant of the fair and worked as a part of the NYCC. She said a big part of why she enjoyed it so much was looking at other presentations, considering “other organizations seemed like they put a lot of effort into their presentations.”

Sophomore Anna Popnikovolva kneels to describe ocean acidification to science fair visitors [photo by Sarah Swenson]

Sarah Swenson, another member of the NYCC presentation group and a junior at NHS, commented that seeing the young kids learning was what made it worth it to her: “I know some of the younger kids didn’t understand all of our presentation, but it was worth it to me because they were being introduced to these concepts. When kids are little, just hearing that climate change exists, or hearing that they should turn off the lights when they’re not in the room is a good start. It kind of gets their foot in the door so that these things make more sense to them when they grow up.”

When inside the gym, attendees were able to roam the many different stations, including one where the kids could run inside of huge cardboard boxes, and other many different interactive tables. The NYCC shared a presentation on the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish and coral reefs. They had a display of shells in waters with different pH levels to show  the effects of water that is too acidic on shells. They also had containers of soda, which is acidic, into which the kids could drop chalk, which is made of a similar substance to shells and coral reefs, to witness the reaction in real time. This interactive format truly allowed for the kids to enjoy learning through hands-on activities to keep them entertained.

There was also a table run by the Girl Scouts who provided a variety of crafts for the kids to participate in, and even some Nantucket High School students ran a table with similar crafts. All high school participants received community service hours for their work at the fair.

Kids visit the girl scout table [photo by Sarah Swenson]

The gym was set up to allow for movement from station to station, while still enticing attendees to truly examine every presentation. There was a large ring running along the gym on the outside and another, smaller ring in the middle. As any other large event held in the gymnasium, this open setup allowed for freedom when it came to exploring all of the different tables, and the kids were really able to let their curiosities flow. 

The age group ranged from kids around 0-7 years old, coming from not only Nantucket Public Schools, but the Nantucket New School and Lighthouse School as well. The kids seemed very intrigued by how interactive the tables were, and the uniqueness of all of the different activities allowed for a variety of subjects to be explored. One display had colorful bird wings, which was a hit for child-parent pairs, enticing many parents to line up and take pictures of their kids standing between the wings. Another display allowed for children to draw in red and blue crayon, educating them about outer space and filters.

While most of the focus of the day was on the kids, and their entertainment, engagement, and education, it would not have been possible without much behind the scenes work. Many of those with displays arrived as early as 8am to set up their presentations. MMA Education Coordinator Camden Palm was essential in making the event happen and everything run smoothly, as was their Director of Advancement, Logan Gomes, who made it possible for the fair to exist by obtaining enough funding for it. Sponsors of the event include the Cape Cod 5 Foundation, the OSCEOLA Foundation Inc., and ACKlimate Nantucket.

The Maria Mitchell Association is pleased with the event this year, and excited for it in the years to come. MMA is an educational organization, and is dedicated to creating “opportunities for all to develop a life-long passion for science through education, research, and first-hand exploration of the sky, land, and sea of Nantucket Island,” as they state on their website. With about 10,000 members, over 18,000 learners served annually, and 78 annual collaborations with universities, foundations, and organizations to better proliferate learning opportunities for all, they are certainly achieving their mission. This fair is just one example of the vital and vibrant education that they bring to the island, especially its young citizens.

“I’m really glad that the Maria Mitchell Association hosts this event.” Swenson said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to get introduced to science concepts. The hands-on projects and friendly atmosphere draws in families and hopefully it’s creating a generation of kids who are all curious about the natural world and who will want to learn more when they get older.”

Junior Dylan Marks explains the effects of pH on scallop shells. [photo by Sarah Swenson]

Popnikolova stated that she “highly recommends going,” for the learning experience, and urges people to attend in years to come, as she says it was “fun to see presentations and talk to people.”

Event coordinator Pauline Cronin praised the NHS students involved: “These students were responsive to my emails, showed up on time, were present and worked their tails off throughout the whole day. I am so proud of them and I hope you will be, too. The day would not have been such a success without them.”

These students were: Aubrey Connors, Hawkin Edwardes, James Cronin, Misho Minevski, Melissa Palencia, Connor Maclean, Joan Harris, Kelsey Tejada, Lesly Rivera Recinos, and Aiden Steele

Overall, the annual Maria Mitchell Science Festival was a success for this year, and since its inception in 2015, has been a great event for kids to learn more about the environment around them. Additionally, the Maria Mitchell Association urges the community to make it to this festival in the future, as it is an interactive and unique way for kids to explore their scientific curiosities outside of the classroom.

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