Community

Sunnyslope librarian hopes kids catch the ‘science bug’

Barbara Olson shows a millipede to a group of youngsters gathered at the Port Orchard Library. - Brian Olson/ Staff Photo
Barbara Olson shows a millipede to a group of youngsters gathered at the Port Orchard Library.
— image credit: Brian Olson/ Staff Photo

Barbara Olson’s summer programs have been packed full of kids, learning

Nothing catches the attention of a human — young or old – quite like a snake.

“I get a lot more mileage out of a python than a guinea pig,” said Barbara Olson, the librarian for Sunnyslope Elementary School who has been spending much of the summer introducing South Kitsap’s youngsters to all sorts of creatures great and slimy.

Fitting in perfectly with the Kitsap Regional Library’s summer theme of “Catch the Reading Bug,” Olson’s programs have presented millipedes at “Creepy Crawlies,” tarantulas at “Animal Adaptations,” and oodles of snakes, of course, at this week’s “Crazy Snake Night.”

It may sound like just a lot of fun, but Olson gives both the animals and the presentations plenty of consideration and thought.

“I choose animals that demonstrate a very specific scientific and environmental concept,” Olson said, explaining that for many of the animals she acquires for her programs, she needs to plan well past even her life span. “Some of the snakes in my collection will (outlive me) and have to be put in my will — I don’t collect lightly.”

She also doesn’t take the educational potential of her programs lightly, describing them as an extension of the Watchers of the Woods program she created with the South Kitsap School District.

At first, the kids who attend her programs at the library may just “have fun and see or touch a creature they’ve never encountered before,” she said. “But, they also walk away with new knowledge or questions about the world.”

And, hopefully, Olson said, many of the kids will absorb what she’s really hoping to impart — that science is a vibrant and vital part of everyday life.

“I have fallen in love with the science of the environment, and have a passion for helping people to become questioners and excited about science,” she said.

Which brings us back to the snakes.

“I want kids to have as authentic an experience as possible, and to not just have them using kits,” she said. “This is very premeditated teaching.”

Olson, 54, said she spent 12 years as a music specialist for Sunnyslope, then another 12 in the classroom, and said obviously her love of teaching is not new, but her love of snakes and science is.

“It’s a newfound passion,” she said, explaining that she had to overcome a fear of snakes before launching her library programs, which she sees as just one part of the many community partnerships she has been forming over the years.

Through teleconferencing with the San Diego Zoo and nature walks with visiting scientists, Olson has already been connecting students at Sunnyslope and Sidney Glen with people working in the field of science.

“But my programs at KRL allow me to reach out and connect with children other than the ones I normally work with at the schools,” she said, explaining that she is working to form her teaching passion into a non-profit called Restructuring Education through Environmental Projects, and eventually take the learning as far afield as Brazil.

“I want to flow classroom learning into real-life experience in the field,” she said. “I want them to use skills they learned in the classroom and all of a sudden have a lightbulb go off — ‘Oh, that’s why graphing is important.’”

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