DAYTON, Ohio -- In the lazy, hazy days of summer, the last thing on most urban teens' minds is science and biotechnology.
But that's not the case for the teenagers who are teaching biotechnology to 100 day-camp participants at Adventure Central in Dayton.
Adventure Central is an after-school and summer youth education center supported by Ohio 4-H and Five Rivers MetroParks. The science program is part of the multi-state "4-H Teens Teaching Youth Biotechnology," sponsored by the National 4-H Council and the United Soybean Board.
In January, four Adventure Central teenagers met in Indianapolis with teens from Delaware, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri to learn about resources to help teach biotechnology to youth. When they returned, they and another Adventure Central teen taught pilot programs at the Wesley Community Center's after-school program, and then planned a two-day June training for 15 other teen science ambassadors chosen to teach biotechnology concepts to Adventure Central youths.
The biotechnology sessions began on June 18 and will continue several days a week, Monday through Thursday, through July 26.
Lynnze English, 18, attended the Indianapolis session and coordinates the science ambassadors teaching biotechnology at Adventure Central.
"We're introducing a whole new field of science to the kids, something they never heard about before," English said. "Our goal is to help them understand the connection between biotechnology and their everyday life.
“When they go to the grocery store and see products made from corn, they'll understand the corn probably has been genetically modified. When they see products labeled 'non-GMO,' they'll know what that means."
The program is funded by the United Soybean Board's Biotechnology Initiative. Local partners include Five Rivers MetroParks, Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio State University's Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center.
But the real work is being done by the teenagers, said Nate Arnett, director of Adventure Central and 4-H youth development educator for OSU Extension.
"The teens have done all the planning of activities," said Arnett, who applied last fall for a $25,000 National 4-H Council grant, which has allowed the Dayton teens to participate.
"They selected the pieces they thought were most interesting and exciting to use here at Adventure Central. It's been a real teen-led experience. All I do is make sure they have the materials they need and support, but they are doing all the planning and all the teaching."
The goal of the program is to help teen 4-H members in urban areas:
- Increase their knowledge of biotechnology.
- Gain confidence in their ability to communicate about biotechnology.
- Become more aware of the rapidly expanding career opportunities in biotechnology.
"The program is helping them understand how frequently biotechnology connects with them in their daily lives, even if they're not aware of it," Arnett said. "They learn how DNA is constructed, and they've done some DNA extraction from different products, strawberries in particular.
“They're getting excited about science and passing along that excitement to the younger kids."
English says she sees that happening on a daily basis.
So far this summer, the kids made bracelets based on DNA's double-helix design; made DNA models from red licorice and gummy candies; dissected daffodils to get the kids familiar with the parts of a plant; made salsa and fruit dipped in chocolate, and talked about what ingredients were genetically modified.
Upcoming activities include making soy ink, soy crayons, and bioplastic made from vinegar, glycerin, water and cornstarch.
"All of the activities are hands-on, and the kids really do enjoy them," she said. "We don't just lecture or try to feed them lots of information. We let them learn for themselves so they can discover on their own."
English, who recently graduated from Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton and will attend Howard University in fall, said the project has allowed her to incorporate art with science.
"That can be a little bit tricky, but it's definitely something that works well," she said.
The project also has opened her eyes to the opportunities in the field of biotechnology.
"I was surprised to learn how rapidly this field is growing, and how much they need young people to fill positions," she said.
Ohio 4-H is the youth development arm of OSU Extension. For more information, see http://www.ohio4H.org.
Editor: Media are welcome to visit Five Rivers MetroParks to interview the teens participating in the 4-H Teens Teaching Youth Biotechnology program and the youths they are teaching. To make arrangements, contact Nate Arnett at 937-278-2601 or firstname.lastname@example.org