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Program encourages Latinx students to grow science interest

UI graduate student Kenyi Choy Hernandez explains to kids how to build a structure using gumdrops

CHAMPAIGN – Children and families gathered at Martens Center in Champaign’s Human Kinetics Park this week to enjoy food and learn more about science – entirely in Spanish.

The Cena y Ciencias (Supper and Science) program takes place on the first Monday of every month during the school year. The program is a collaboration involving University of Illinois faculty, students and the UIUC Society of the Advancement of Chicanos and Native American Scientists (SACNAS).

U of I graduate student Kenyi Choy Hernandez taught this week’s lesson for the program. Hernandez taught 5 to 12-year-olds about the topic of crystals and how they are made.

“It’s important for kids. Kids already learn science, I believe, in school in English,” Hernandez said. “So, it’s important for them, like coming from Latinx backgrounds to at least have those same concepts, relearn or learn, again, in Spanish.”

Children participated in two hands-on activities during the program, which includes creating their own crystals using hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate and hot water.

Hernandez said most of the family events are done in English so this program is important to growing part of the community.

“Families that speak Spanish or mainly Spanish speakers can come together and create a sense of community here in Champaign Urbana, by this specific method, like not only involving the parents but also like the kids and all their community.”

Dulce Cortes is a mother whose child participates in the Cena y Ciencias program. Cortes said because of the program, her son’s favorite subject is now science.

“He learned a lot of things that he wasn’t learning at school. He learned new vocabulary in Spanish because he started to learn Science but in English at school,” Cortes said.

Ricardo Diaz is an involved parent in the program. He said he hopes families get a sense of community with these programs.

“We just had an evaluation in which that was highlighted by the evaluator that one of the things that we have is a very welcoming atmosphere. And so that’s huge for us.”

Hernandez said it’s important for Latinx students to understand science, and he hopes Cena y Ciencias will encourage them to study it further.

Picture of Luis Velazquez-Perez

Luis Velazquez-Perez

Luis Velazquez- Perez recently earned a B.S. in Journalism with a minor in Latina/Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is now pursuing his Master's in Journalism. Aside as an intern at Illinois Newsroom, Velazquez-Perez has written for The Daily Illini, Cicero Independiente and C-U CitizenAccess. He aspires to be a bilingual public radio journalist

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