Olentangy junior's online science lessons reach youth far and wide

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Olentangy Orange High School junior Nikitha Bhimireddy, 15, has created the Rising Youth, a website and YouTube channel to help children develop a passion for science. She also runs ScienceZoomz, in which she and her friends conduct experiments for children over weekly Zoom calls. Bhimireddy is pictured preparing an experiment called "elephant toothpaste," using hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients to create a foamy volcano.

Like most of us, Nikitha Bhimireddy has been stuck at home more often than not over the past few months.

The 15-year-old Lewis Center resident figured if she was having trouble staying engaged with her school work during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, other students likely were, too.

So she combined her passion for biology and experience in working with younger children to create the Rising Youth, a YouTube channel with short, engaging lessons in science and the human body, geared for elementary schoolers.

"With schools closed, I just started thinking, 'How can I do something to make learning more accessible?' " Bhimireddy said. "I've always been passionate about science, mostly biology and the human body. I had the idea to start making videos."

Bhimireddy, a junior-to-be at Olentangy Orange High School, started by tackling topics directly related to the pandemic -- such as the difference between a bacteria and a virus, and how to wash your hands properly -- while taking care to make both the information and presentation "kid-friendly," she said.

"Bright colors, simple drawings ... I planned the scripts out, or at least the major points I wanted to talk about," Bhimireddy said.

After posting a handful of videos to the YouTube channel, Bhimireddy decided to try something more interactive. With the help of two friends -- Roma Jha from New Jersey and Na-Kum Lee from Virginia -- she launched ScienceZoomz, a free, online science lesson.

"I was thinking of ways to take science to young students directly, when we're limited to the internet as a way to be together, and I thought having it led by a team would make it more fun and interactive," she said. "We conduct engaging science experiments over weekly Zoom calls using simple materials children can find locally or at home."

The remote science program has reached children as far away as Massachusetts and Texas, and Bhimireddy said her initial concerns that young participants would be shy about asking questions and interacting in the online environment were quickly snuffed.

"I see some of my younger self in them," Jha said. "I was always asking questions and looking stuff up. I see this as not only a way to talk about science but to make it personal and fun, as well."

Bhimireddy said she thinks having high school students lead ScienceZoomz allows participants to be more open to the subject matter and maybe to know it's OK for young people to be inspired by science.

"When (Nikitha) came and told us she wanted to do something for kids, to inspire kids, we were proud and it gave me a warm feeling in my heart," said Gangadhar Bhimireddy, Nikitha's father. "Growing up in a small village in India, just getting to school was a struggle."

Nikitha Bhimireddy said her father's struggles -- which she said children in India continue to have today, and which she has seen on trips to visit family -- also are part of her inspiration for the Rising Youth.

"I would see children the same age as me living with their families in tents and going to small schools with very little access to resources," she said.

"With all the resources I have available, even with schools closed, I felt I needed to use them to provide those opportunities to students to dip their toes in science and maybe find a passion."

For more information, go to therisingyouth.org or the Rising Youth YouTube channel.

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