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ScienceWorks to aid Ashland elementary students

ASHLAND — ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum has developed a short-term program to offer remote learning support for Ashland School District students in second through fifth grade.

The program will see small groups of students enrolled in a supervised distance learning environment, along with science enrichment. The Ashland School District is one of several local districts where students will start the year learning remotely from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the core parts of our mission has always been augmenting science programs for districts we serve,” said ScienceWorks Director Dan Ruby.

The program’s enrollment is limited to two cohorts of 12 students apiece, allowing for appropriate physical distancing. It costs $200 a week or $175 a week for ScienceWorks members. Financial assistance is available for families who utilize the free and reduced lunch program. ScienceWorks officials plan to run the program through Nov. 6, though that is subject to change.

“Nobody has any idea what’s going to happen,” Ruby said. “The pandemic is permanently changing how some schools and museums operate. Basically we’re ready for the unknown.”

The museum has augmented school science programs through field trips in the past, but the pandemic has nixed those for the time being. Last month, the museum switched its hours to weekends only, a decision primarily driven by a sharp plunge in attendance, also an effect of the pandemic. The museum saw 730 visitors from June 15 to July 15 following a three-month closure prompted by COVID-19, museum officials said. About 5,800 people visited during the same period in 2019. Visits from locals have dropped about 75%, while tourist visits are down about 85%, according to Ruby.

The museum has been in the process of making other new partnerships, too. It recently forged one with the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market, which operate on the facility’s grounds. The museum will also soon host drive-in movies in partnership with the Ashland Independent Film Festival, Ruby said.

For the after-school program, ScienceWorks hopes to closely match the Ashland School District’s curriculum and supplement it with proprietary programs and content used at museum camps. Leah Ruby and Ash Friend of ScienceWorks will run the day-to-day operations as program manager and education manager, respectively.

Sessions are scheduled from noon to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. During that time, students will take individual online classes and participate in museum recreation such as museum exploration, outdoor playtime and staff-led science activities. Sessions start Sept. 8. Health and safety guidelines, including mandatory mask wearing, daily symptom screenings and increased cleaning procedures, will be followed.

All materials are included in the registration fee, though students will need to bring their own electronic devices such as laptops and headphones.

Depending on how developments play out in the coming weeks, Ruby said the program’s capacity could be increased to accommodate more students.

“Our cap probably would be 60 students at once,” Ruby said. “We’re really trying to keep it small to start. Public health is first and foremost to us, so we want to make sure we’re totally responsible to the science on this.”

Similar remote learning assistance programs will be offered by Medford’s Kid Time Children’s Museum and Wildlife Images, located outside Grants Pass.

For more information, see scienceworksmuseum.org/school-support-program or call 541-482-6767.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

file photoColin White works on assembling a NASA mission control console at ScienceWorks in Ashland.