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Kids College gives kids a taste of higher education

Kids College gives kids a taste of higher education
Hannah Hecimovich of Austin gets some hands on instruction in leather-working from Kathy Scabby Robe Parnett, of Two Bears Trading Post.

It may sound like a cute name for yet another summer activity, but sit in on one or two Kids College classes at Riverland Community College and you will likely change your mind.

Sue Knoll’s class in forensic science was a good choice. The students were mostly 10-year olds, but her approach to the subject was as serious as, well, murder.

"They said murder when I asked them what sort of crime they would like to investigate," the Riverland instructor said.

Then she introduced them to the groundbreaking work of the famous French criminalist Edmond Locard, who posited that every contact between persons or persons and objects results in an exchange of evidence.

That’s what the students began to look for clues on a black sweater that was supplied to each of four tables where the classmates worked.


Using tweezers to remove items from the sweaters, the youngsters then placed them in plastic containers, which they labeled according to category: biological, chemical and physical.

"What would be an example of biological evidence?," Knoll asked. "Did anyone collect any skin cells?"

Chase Witia, 10, of Banfield Elementary School, had his evidence containers neatly labeled and ready for analysis, the next step in the forensic process. "This was interesting," he said.

"Tomorrow will have a different focus," Knoll said. "They will spend time with the microscope, looking at hair."

And so the process will continue through the week. Her class likely will come away with some of Knoll’s enthusiasm for science.

"In forensics, you can dabble with all kinds of science," she said, "math, biology, chemistry, engineering."

Twenty-one courses, each one a week long, are offered in the program co-sponsored by Riverland and Austin Community Education. The list includes law, poetry, renewable energy, theater basics, history, foreign language, art and rocket engineering.

Ken Fiscus of Albert Lea instructs the rocketry course. This is not rocket science, but it does get involved. His aim is to teach kids how to build and safely fly model rockets.


Monday morning covered the parts that go into a re-usable Alpha rocket, but Fiscus makes it clear that little rockets face the same aerodynamics that big rockets do. Perhaps the biggest difference is the cost of launching. An Alpha kit can be bought for about $7 and used over and over again, barring an accident or the rocket’s parachute descent into a tree.

"I’m trying to teach this because it is a real cool hobby," he told his class.

While care and attention to detail is a requirement, Fiscus is confident that all his students will be ready for Friday’s finale when parents can come and watch the launchings.

Monday’s highlight came at an 11:15 a.m. launch in the parking lot. "If you’re going to be a rocket person, you’ve got to pay attention to the wind," he said, as they approached the area.

Fiscus adjusted the rocket’s launch pad into the wind, which blew from the college, set the igniter (no matches required) and began the countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

As he had predicted, the rocket shot upward at a speed of 300 mph, kept climbing even after its engine burned out, topped the building’s antenna and then floated back to Earth beneath its parachute.

To save wear and tear on the missile, Fiscus had encouraged the students to catch the rocket before it touched down. Simon Hirst, 10, of Banfield, was running with the pack and just in the right spot to snatch the rocket from the air.


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