The newest OC reality stars are budding scientists in an educational PBS series
The latest crew of reality stars from Orange County is far from the drama-filled cast of characters edited to be their most outrageous. These girls participated in PBS Tween Girl Series, SciGirls.
SciGirls is in its third season, showcasing small groups of real girls from around the county learning about the concept of Citizen Science. Citizen science happens when ordinary people study the world around them and send in the data they collect to scientists. Each show kicks off with an animated comedic duo wondering about some aspect of the natural world, and then tuning in to real life where girls join mentors in their field of their chosen science to learn more and study the effects within their community.
For Taylor, Ellah, and Chloe — three girls who met in the Crystal Cove Alliance Junior Lifeguard program — this meant hands-on opportunities to explore deeper into the seaside world they spent their free time in to learn about the health of area plant and wildlife.
Mentors in marine science from UC Irvine joined the girls as they ventured on whale watches, sailed research boats to collect plankton, snorkeled local coves to observe kelp forests, and counted fish and various other creatures who make our coastline home.
For their moms, two of whom are in the education field, this was a great opportunity to become inspired and learn more about potential futures in marine science and other related areas.
The show producers first contacted the girls’ parents, as the show would need to be filmed over a week that happened to fall within the first month of the school year. Fortunately for the girls, their mothers held a strong belief that experiencing new things and learning from professionals in a real life setting was just as beneficial as a week spent in a classroom, if not more.
The girls had to work hard to make up the work, and impress new teachers with the fact that they were serious students who cared about their academic success. Once word spread that the girls weren’t just blowing off school to hang on the beach, but were engaged in serious scientific experiments with marine biologists (even spending a day in a university lab), the feedback they received was completely positive.
Not only did the girls have a lot of fun during their week spent in PBS’ hands, but each came away from the experience with a renewed respect and interest in the health and wellbeing of the Crystal Cove State Park and the surrounding natural environment. Their moms share their thoughts on this unique journey and the road that led to raising girls with such a passion for the Terrific Pacific.
PBS SciGirls “Terrific Pacific” airs May 22 on KLCS. Watch this episode, and all of Season Three, online at www.pbskids.org/scigirls
Ellah and Leah Hess
“My being in the education field has probably helped Ellah find her passion in some capacity,” says mom, Leah Hess. “Encouraging all of our children, sons or daughters, to go out and spend time with experts and learn from them with a hands-on approach certainly benefits them as students and develops a natural love of learning.”
Leah, who has two other teens pursuing STEM-related fields (forensic science and engineering), had no qualms when hearing about the show.
“I just thought, what a great opportunity for her. She loves the ocean, so to be able to learn about all the different components from a biologist is ideal. She even learned about different career options related to marine science from interacting with the cameramen and photographers.”
“Since the show, we’ll be walking on the coast and she’ll identify different plankton or tell us about the colors of the ocean, and what they mean. We hear about her experience whale watching — we pick up little tidbits as we spend time on the beach.”
Ellah most enjoyed snorkeling and kayaking during the show, as well as wrapping her head around the idea of plankton and that so many living things inhabited the same water she spends so much time splashing around in. Although Leah’s daughter has only spent one season in the Junior Guard program, Ellah has made close friends and thinks of Crystal Cove as her home.
“We have moved quite a bit as a family, but we try to take advantage of learning what makes each region unique. And the Pacific Ocean definitely has its own unique qualities. I hope because of this show, a lot of people will come explore Crystal Cove and the Harbor and become a part of what is happening here.”
Taylor and Mary Ann Magee
“Taylor’s always had a strong interest in science and history, so this experience was a natural for her,” says mom, Mary Ann Magee. “She was born here and has a strong appreciation for the Crystal Cove area. She’s always been fascinated with marine life and she’s really into preservation and people being respectful of the ocean.”
Part of that love might have been fostered by the amount of time Taylor spent enjoying her natural surroundings with her family.
“Taylor’s just been a water baby her whole life. She started swimming when she was six months old. Her brother’s also really into the ocean — he’s an avid surfer — so as family we spent a lot of time at the beach.”
Magee further encouraged her daughter’s natural inclination by signing her up for the local Junior Lifeguard program.
“They learned so much from the Crystal Cove Junior Lifeguard Alliance. It was a lot of exercise, water safety and CPR. But they also taught them about the tide pools, waves, currents and about the different marine life systems.”
Magee doesn’t doubt that Taylor’s experience with Sci-Girls and the PBS crew made a serious impact on the then-eighth grader. Spending a day at UC Irvine in the lab, doing experiments with a university marine biologist, gave real insight into a future in the field.
“They got to go out on this amazing boat that normally would have a hundred people on it, but it was just them and their mentor, the UCI marine biologist, and staff from PBS. I think it opened up her eyes to a new world. It sparked an interest and awareness that she could actually make a difference.”
Chloe and Diane Hyde
“I think the best thing I did for my kids was turning off the TV when they were young, thus turning them into voracious readers,” says mom, Diane Hyde. “People made fun of me for not letting her watch SpongeBob, but let me tell you, I think it paid off.”
With no TV during the week, the kids were motivated to join extracurriculars like Chess Club and Mad Science, an afterschool science competition program. Friday night was movie night, as a family.
“I really do think that time period, exposing them to different things, helped a lot. We took our kids to Shakespeare in the Park and to art museums. We just got back from Yosemite over spring break. Chloe’s love of animals inspires her love of science. Exposing them to nature makes them more aware of the bubble of Orange County and what else is out there.”
Diane has gone one admirable step further in her quest to open her kids’ minds.
“Every summer we go down to Mexico for a couple of weeks and build a house while the kids help out in an orphanage. They get away from their phone and their iPad and just be with family in a situation that’s very uncomfortable, cleaning toilets and dishes and things they are not used to in OC. But they actually have a great time, and they think of the kids in the orphanages as their brothers and sisters and they’re motivated to learn Spanish now. It shows them how fortunate they are.”
Diane also credits the Newport Mesa School district for going the extra step to engage students in STEM-related subjects.
“They’ve always had science specialists come in to do hands-on activities. Kids are exposed to people with science degrees or jobs in the field in elementary. They do projecrs instead of just reading from a textbook.”
By Sascha Zuger • Photography by Ana Brandt