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Science Buddies: Contra Costa Times

Straight A's

Contra Costa Times

December 9, 2002

Times staff writer

High school advisers say a great way for a student to add pizzazz to his or her college resume is to get involved in community service, and what better time to do it than around the holidays?

"Community service will always look good on a college application," said Sue Davis, vice principal at Livermore High School.

That's no secret to 16-year-old Leslie Tonjes of California High School in San Ramon, who has already started by joining a new Bay Area program call Science Buddies.

This online mentoring program gets high school students paired with middle-school students to work together on science projects. As an added bonus, the students are joined online by adult mentors, many of whom are scientists.

"I've done projects in middle school and I know how nice it is to have someone close to your age help you with the project," Leslie said. "It doesn't take too much time to help someone out."

Science Buddies, a nonprofit program, began last year. It was designed to encourage greater participation in science fairs, and involves students from all over the Bay Area, from Pleasanton to Monterey and on up to San Francisco. This year, 300 middle-school students are signed up and looking for help, but the program is short 40 high school students to serve as mentors.

Courtney Corda, development director for Science Buddies, said many students are often left out of science fairs because they do not have the opportunity to get attention and help.

Pamela Moy, a Pleasanton resident and former biology teacher from Chicago, wanted to become an adult mentor for Science Buddies, realizing its potential to help young students. "Ideally, it's students helping students, and the adult nudges them along," she said. "The older students learn a lot. They learn patience and it gives them great community service credits."

The program is easy to follow and outsiders can peek in on some of the learning.

Checks with several school districts in the area reveal that mentoring programs are few and far between. However, there are many opportunities out there for students to get involved in community service programs. Some districts even have courses requiring students to get involved in the community.

Leslie Rothwell, principal at Castro Valley High School, said one of their best mentoring programs yet has changed the dynamic of her school. The Link Crew Program came from a grant several years ago to fight the problem of bullying. It involves pairing juniors and seniors with incoming freshmen for an entire year, to ease the transition from moving from junior high to high school. The program has targeted social aspects of high school, but Rothwell said the freshmen have suggested there be an academic component to the portion, such as help around finals and school projects.

At De Anza High, principal David Moss said his school has one program that allows high school students wanting to become teachers to aid teachers in the elementary schools. Not only does it allow them to take a peek at the profession and mentor younger children, Moss said, but it gives them a chance to add community service to their resumes. "It's good all around," Moss said.

Straight A's appears weekly. Send questions about education to the Contra Costa Times, attention Education Team, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, or to kkitlowski@cctimes.com.