IRIS Academy for short, beginning on Feb. 27 the academy will provide classes and enrichment in hands-on science, art, cooking, gardening and other facets of the natural world for students in first to eighth grades, and in the future for high school students.
It was founded by Sue Carter in response to a deficit she sees in her role as a physics professor at University of California, Santa Cruz. She was looking for an investment in Scotts Valley and decided to start the academy because of her love for science.
“Students are coming in (to the university) with a lot less physics classes,” Carter said.
The reason, she said, is federal legislation that directs funding toward the traditional three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic — at the expense of science, art and music instruction.
“No Child Left Behind focuses on math and language arts,” Carter said. “Science is pretty much abandoned. There are no real incentives for schools to offer science; plus, science labs are expensive.”
To compensate, she has created a place where children can explore science at their own pace and take classes from certified instructors. Home-schoolers can make it part of their regular schedule, and other students can visit after school. The academy will be open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 2:40 to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Among the instruments in the center are light sensors, gas pressure sensors, a tool that measures magnetic fields, easy-to-use graphing equipment and software, Lego robotics and a music creation area, presented in an environment that feels homey rather than sterile.
Carter has incorporated iPads into the center’s offerings but encourages learning with one’s hands.
“There are a lot of places for our students to hang out and hopefully use their imagination,” she said.
Outside is a fruit and vegetable garden with two greenhouses and a two-level aquaponics system where students will learn about planting, photosynthesis and fish and can try experiments related to the outdoors.
Carter said many school science programs are done on computers and the outcomes are predetermined.
At IRIS, students will instead go in search of answers to their own questions, according to Erica Gregory, the director and head educator of the academy.
“We’re trying to bring the imagination back into it,” Gregory said. “We’re trying to build an environment where kids want to be here, absolutely get excited and make them want to explore more.”
Gregory is joined by staff member Lara White, a biologist and ecologist, and educators Tim Clark and Emma Bishop.
Students can sign up for a 13-week trimester for $18 to $40 per week, individual classes for $25 and an upcoming summer camp.
The academy will have an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. March 1 at 4401 Scotts Valley Drive.
For information: www.irisscienceacademy.com or 331-1050.
When: 3 to 6 p.m. March 1
Where: 4401 Scotts Valley Drive, in Scotts Valley
Details: Families can meet the staff of IRIS Science Academy, tour the facility and take part in science experiments.
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