Offering a Glimpse of Science – and the Solar Eclipse – to Juvenile Hall Teens

UC Riverside outreach made it possible for Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall students to safely view the Aug. 21 eclipse

About 30 F. H. Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall School students received special eclipse glasses so they, too, could enjoy the cosmic phenomenon on Aug. 21, 2017. Kelly mcgrail

In preparation for the solar eclipse that swept across the United States on Aug. 21, two UC Riverside astronomers made sure teens at a local juvenile hall also got to experience the cosmic phenomenon.

Mario De Leo-Winkler, the director of education and public outreach for the NASA FIELDS Program, and Brian Siana, an associate professor in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy, gave several talks to multiple groups in the F. H. Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall School, and also donated special eclipse glasses, so the teenagers, numbering around 30, could safely enjoy the cosmic event. For the duration of the eclipse, the Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall authorities agreed to let the students out into the open spaces of the facilities for a viewing.

Mario De Leo-Winkler ucr

De Leo-Winkler, who is also a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, explained that studies have shown that recidivism rates in teenagers can be up to 70 percent, but education in correctional facilities reduces it by 43 percent. Re-incarceration in adult prisoners has been shown to drop to as low as 4 percent if the prisoners get a degree while in prison.

“We got in contact with the Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall to see if they were interested in having talks and demos in their installations,” he said. “They mentioned that the science offered to their students could get a boost, and our efforts would be very welcome. We are offering supplementary instruction on science. We want the students to consider science as an opportunity after they go back to their communities.”

De Leo-Winkler has experience working with juvenile halls. Along with a group of fellow-astronomers, he volunteered for four years at five venues in Mexico City to bring outreach science activities to juvenile halls. The city later honored him with a prize for his efforts.

The partnership with the Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall came about because Siana’s wife recently worked with the Riverside juvenile public defender’s office.

“We were sympathetic to the needs of the youth in these facilities,” Siana said, “and it became an obvious choice for us as an outreach effort.”

So far, the talks by him and De Leo-Winkler at the Butterfield Riverside Juvenile Hall covered the origin of the universe and its scales, as well as the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

“We found that the students are very interested in the material, and are very participative,” De Leo-Winkler said. “They have even requested more sessions.”

Brian Siana ucr

The outreach effort is part of a larger program launched earlier this year in the Department of Physics and Astronomy to coordinate an annual series of about six outreach/education visits by the astronomy group to the Riverside Juvenile Hall.

“Astronomy can be awe inspiring, and we hope to introduce exciting science to the students in this juvenile hall,” Siana said.

The program is funded by a grant to him from the National Science Foundation.

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