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Special Needs Science Fair marks 20th anniversary

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The 20th edition of a science fair that holds special needs students in Columbus City Schools to the same standards as their peers is set for Friday, April 25.

The event, which longtime organizer Paul Lasker believes is the only one of its kind in the state, will take place in the library at Beechcroft High School, 6100 Beechcroft Road, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The science fair is for special needs, multi-handicapped and orthopedically impaired students, according to an announcement from the district's communications department.

Lasker, who teaches special education at Beechcroft, said what was previously called the Exceptional Science Fair is now being billed by district officials as the Special Needs Science Fair. It will draw participants from high schools throughout the city, including Beechcroft, Centennial, Independence, Eastmoor and Columbus Alternative.

He expects between 90 and 100 students to take part in competitive science projects that have in the past ranged from worm races to comets created with dry ice to experiments involving a variety of insects.

"It's coming together," Lasker said last week.

A new feature this year, courtesy of a grant the Clintonville resident obtained, will be the presence of COSI on Wheels.

The traveling outreach program of COSI Columbus offers hands-on science activities that are aligned with Ohio academic content standards and national science education standards, according to the COSI website.

Representatives from Metro Parks, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity, Franklin County Soil and Water District and other groups doing community outreach also will be on hand, according to Lasker.

All of these groups and organizations participate at no charge, he said.

"They're probably reaching a group of kids who may not necessarily have the opportunity to see those things as other neighborhood kids," he said.

Members of the STEM Club at Beechcroft have been helping out with the science fair for the past several years, as have other students not in special education classes and many parents -- "Which is part of the Beechcroft DNA," Lasker said.

"I get a lot of help from the staff here," he added. "You certainly can't do this alone. What's great about hands-on science stuff, when people see what they're doing, they want to buy into it."

The science fair was launched in 1994 by Mary Ann Crowley and Nancy Deltaco, then-teachers at Beechcroft who have since moved from the area. Lasker assisted in organizing the event the first eight years it took place and took over running it in 2002.

"It has gained traction," Lasker said. "The kids love the hands-on stuff. They love seeing stuff either alive, grow, blow up, fizz. The visual -- that's the really important thing to the group."

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