Northland News

Exceptional Science Fair

Worm races, volcanoes highlight unifying event

Beechcroft fair gives students with disabilities chance to show off science chops

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It's a lot of work, but a labor of love.

That's how Clintonville resident Paul Lasker described the Columbus City Schools Exceptional Science Fair at Beechcroft High School, where he is a special-education teacher.

Lasker has been running the science fair, which is for students with disabilities, for the past 11 years.

The 19th edition of the event is set from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, at Beechcroft High, 6100 Beechcroft Road in the Northland area.

Some of Lasker's students at Beechcroft will participate, as will students from Centennial, South, Columbus Alternative and Columbus Downtown high schools and Eastmoor Academy.

Lasker said the science fair is the only one of its kind in the state that is specifically for what are called "low-incidence students."

The term is derived from how small a percentage of the population it includes.

According to the website of the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials, low-incidence disabilities include:

* Blindness

* Low vision

* Deafness

* Hard-of-hearing

* Deaf-blindness

* Significant developmental delays

* Complex health issues

* Serious physical impairments

* Multiple disabilities

* Autism

"None of the disabilities listed under low-incidence disabilities generally exceed 1 percent of the school-aged population at any given time," the site states.

The Exceptional Science Fair was started in 1994 by Mary Ann Crowley and Nancy Deltaco, two teachers at Beechcroft who have since moved away from Columbus. Lasker was their assistant in putting on the event the first eight years and has been running the show since 2002.

"I tell people it's a lot of work, trust me, but it's fun for me because I get the opportunity to order praying mantises and feed them, and create a comet, and have worm races -- all these things that I dreamed of doing when I was a kid and I get to do them now," Lasker said last week.

Worm races?

"That will be fun," he said.

The purpose of the science fair is to get these students involved in exactly the kinds of activities people don't expect them to be able to comprehend, he said. In the 1990s, students with various and sometimes multiple disabilities weren't as integrated or accepted in the student population as they are today, he added.

"Back in the day, it was a novelty, but now it's not a surprise that our students are participating in it," Lasker said. "They want this group, this population, to have the same kind of experiences that the regular kids have."

Through the science fair, the special-education instructor added, he tries to get students without disabilities to recognize those who do as their peers.

"It's really huge for both kids," Lasker said. "It's really an important idea. It really breaks down some barriers."

As for what the participants have been working on in preparation for the fair, Lasker described pretty much what any science fair might entail.

"There are a lot of volcanoes, of course," he said.

In addition, though, there will be a comet created using dry ice; experiments in piezoelectricity, the kind generated from crystals; turtles; chemistry; and the aforementioned worms and praying mantises.

"We get a good crowd," Lasker said. "We get some parents, we get some guests from the district and we get their friends from the school."

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