His blue glasses pushed down to the tip of his nose, Kaleb San Miguel, 9, poked at the bag in his hand.
"Oooh, wow," he said. "That's weird."
San Miguel compared the colored liquid to a chart. He concluded the soil measured a pH of 8 -- too basic to grow corn, but just right for Kentucky bluegrass.
The experiment is one of many that will be conducted this year in the Help Yourself Academy at Casper College. The after-school program introduces college to students in grades 3-6 with hands-on math and science projects. Modeled after a program at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Help Yourself Academy feeds into the existing GEAR-UP program for students in grades 7-12. The program can accommodate 24 students.
"We're trying to target kids who are disadvantaged, so that early on they think that college is possible for them," instructor Jennifer Grooms said.
The students attend several different schools and were selected by teachers. The Natrona County School District provides transportation from the Boys and Girls Club of Natrona County. The program is funded by the foundation at Casper College but would need additional donor support to continue past this first year.
Grooms has help from student mentors from Casper College and the University of Wyoming, who receive credit in their communications or education courses. With about a dozen kids in the pilot group, there's practically a one-to-one ratio.
The program fit the interests of Jessica Robinett, a freshman at Casper College. She wants to teach high school physical science and said the kids are excited to do the hands-on projects.
"This is what I want to do as a teacher -- make science fun," she said.
The kids ask their mentors about college life. The goal is to make them think positively about college, said Grooms.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, San Miguel said he doesn't know yet. His partner, third-grader Nicole Middleton, has it all figured out -- mostly.
"I want to be a nurse in the operating room," she said. "Or a lawyer."
She smiled at the thought of blood and laughed about going to school for several years. She said she's not worried about that stuff.
Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at (307) 266-0593 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her education blog at tribtown.trib.com/reportcard