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Balloons, baking soda, and marshmallows-those are just a few fun tools of the science trade Claudia Esposito of Cool-ology shared to get kids excited about science during a recent school visit.
For the past two years, Claudia has been a popular afterschool educational draw at Tisko Elementary in Branford, where she offers Cool-ology to grades 1 to 4 as a program supported by the Tisko PTO. Claudia coordinates the visits with the assistance of 4th-grade teacher Deb Bliven.
"I truly appreciate my time there," says Claudia. "The children are so enthusiastic, and the staff has been very accommodating."
A Madison resident, Claudia was inspired to create her company, Cool-olgy, in 2011, after "my son came home one day and said he hated science! That's when the bell went off in my head."
She decided to try to put the "cool" back in science.
"I know schools are doing the best they absolutely can, but they often don't have the time and they don't have materials. That summer, I took a lot of time putting a huge packet of resources together. I started doing a ton of research and found a lot of great, hands-on, inquiry-based science. My goal was to consolidate it for kids, and to use it to turn kids on to science, and get them excited about science."
Through her website, www.cool-ology.com, Claudia reaches out to offer experiential science-based opportunities to youngsters all along the shoreline. She travels to each destination and brings along all the materials needed to get the gathering involved. She recently found the stuff kids like appeals to big kids, too, after being invited to visit her niece's Women in Science club at Guilford High School (GHS).
"I took a Valentine's Day science approach," Claudia says of the pink-foaming, balloon-expanding and marshmallow-and-kabob-stick creations the young women whipped up. "We made catapults; we blew up balloons using carbon dioxide from vinegar and baking soda. I did what I do with the little kids, and I think they had a lot of fun."
Claudia is absolutely doing a great job of creating excitement in kids about science, notes Sarah Sandora, club advisor, teacher and head of the GHS Science Department.
"I am so thrilled that there are people, like Claudia, who understand the importance of engaging young children who are so naturally curious about the world, and developing a love of science in them at an early age," says Sandora, adding, "She is enthusiastic and understands what children will find fascinating and has an uncanny ability to teach complex science concepts in a way that young children will understand."
Claudia graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and art history. She holds a master's in early childhood education from Southern Connecticut State University. She began teaching with North Branford public schools in 1988, exiting the district after 10 years and with an impressive record of achievement.
"I taught 4th grade at Northford Intermediate School (now Totoket Valley) for five years and 2nd grade at Jerome Harrison School for five years. I absolutely loved working there," says Claudia. "The students and staff were wonderful to work with."
During Claudia's 1988-1998 teaching period in North Branford, she was named a Teacher of the Year for both schools and was also named the district's Teacher of the Year.
After experiencing the loss of stillborn twin sons in 1998, Claudia became involved with the Hygeia Foundation, founded in 1995, which supports those grieving the loss of a pregnancy or infant. Claudia remains a foundation board member and serves as the foundation's vice president.
"I needed time to grieve and figure out how I was going to go on without them," she says of the decision to leave North Branford Public Schools. "Then, I fortunately had my two live sons. I stayed home to take care of them until I started working at their preschool. A few years after that, Cool-ology was born!"
While her sons were tots, she taught for "four fun years" at a Madison Nursery School, and also worked as an educational consultant to teachers and administrators for North Branford and New Haven public schools. Currently, the Connecticut state-certified teacher is a member of the National Science Teachers Association and the Connecticut Science Teachers Association. In addition, she volunteers with the Connecticut Association for the gifted program called Minds-In-Motion.
"We're a stable of educators who volunteer, and I'm kind of their science person. We have a lot of events coming up around the state in March," says Claudia, who, like the other teachers, volunteers her services. The association does charge a fee to participate.
The teacher in Claudia wants to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning in all kids. Through Cool-ology, she's planning an engineering component to share with Madison school kids as part of an upcoming Science-Palooza-style event.
"I'm not a scientist; I'm a teacher, first," says Claudia. "I want to give kids a general idea of what science is and get them excited about it."
Learn more at www.cool-ology.com. To find out about local programming available through the Hygeia Foundation, visit www.hygeiafoundation.org.