Hacienda Heights’ Youth Science Center inspires youth to embrace love of STEM

Textbooks are great, but when you really want to dive into science, nothing beats a great exhibit or hands-on learning lab.

Each year, thousands of elementary and middle school students come to Hacienda Heights Youth Science Center (YSC) to discover the excitement of science and technology through classes and programs designed to promote learning through interaction.

Kids dive into 3D printing, plant seeds, design model green cities, build solar car racers, dissect squid and reuse soda pop bottles to soar beyond.

“Our classes feature teachers who have a specialty and real enthusiasm in particular areas of the sciences, so they’re able to go deeper into different science, technology, engineering and math specialties,” said Patricia Smith, long-time YSC volunteer and retired science educator. “We don’t just read about marine biology, we go to the tide pools. We play with Lego robotics. We learn how to construct buildings to withstand disasters.”

While many of the classes take place during the summer months, YSC additionally offers after-school programs and serves as a site for local teachers to enrich their own classroom science activities and curriculum.

The fun comes with playing with the materials, ultimately getting young students to work their minds and problem-solving skills to come up with solutions to change the world.

“We really work on arming our kids with science notebooks, teaching them to do investigative research and experiment,” said Smith. “We show the kids how science and technology work together, and how we can move ideas to inventions.”

In addition to the classes, YSC is opening an on-site science room at Bixby Elementary School, scheduled to open in fall 2015.

“It’s a work-in-progress,” said YSC Chairman of the Board Ron Chong. “Through grants and donations, we want to keep adding to it and hope it will be a wonderful place to feature exhibits and labs to bring science to life.”

Chong, who has also had a role with YSC for more than 25 years, said the real joy comes when he hears stories of students who learned to love science after interactions with YSC.

“Just a few weeks ago I had a mom share that her son left YSC to go on to be a star student in middle school, valedictorian in high school this past June and will now attend Stanford to study (Molecular Biology).”

The interest, Chong said, started with YSC.

“The Youth Science Center has really been a step ahead of our national agenda to grow the sciences,” said Don Knabe, LA County Supervisor. “Today, we’ve all heard the importance of getting our kids STEM-ready to enter the workforce of tomorrow, but YSC has been offering our young people opportunities to be hands-on for decades – what a gift for our community.”

To learn more about the Youth Science Center, visit http://www.youthsciencecenter.org. The on-site Center is now located at Bixby Elementary School, 16446 Wedgeworth Drive in Hacienda Heights and is open on Tuesdays through Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. To visit, please call ahead (626) 588-7818.