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Students participate in after-school science activities. Photo courtesy LabRats
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After school program offered to spark student interest in science

ENCINITAS — Encinitas students can take part in an after-school program geared to spark their interest and love of science.

LabRats San Diego, an Encinitas based nonprofit company, is hosting the STEAM Discovery Center at the Encinitas Boys & Girls Club. The program offers a series of interactive science education labs that will challenge each student’s understanding and problem-solving skills using hands-on, team-based experiments designed to implement, enhance and enrich their emerging knowledge of science.

“We are an innovative program focusing on the three forums of engagement as a tool to deliver quality science education from real scientists to students,” said Samuel Varela, education coordinator for LabRats San Diego. “Students need an edge in STEM because the job market is going that way and we as a country are falling behind.”

LabRats San Diego was established in 2017 by two local scientists Ryan Merrill and Shawn Carlson. Varela said Dr. Carlson has received a McCarthy fellowship award for his work developing this teaching style and program, making it highly beneficial to students’ learning in STEM.

Students can register for the four-week courses in Fall, Winter and Spring sessions over the next three years.

The program has two groups: LabRats Explorers, for kids in fifth through eighth grade, and Young Explorers, for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The LabRats Explorers can play with and program robots, cut and design a project with the laser cutter, sit in on a one-hour STEM education course with the resident scientists, or get some after school homework and test help from academic coaches who are local high school interns familiar with the local schools teaching styles and subjects.

“Students in fifth to eighth grade are most at risk to feel effects of the eight-grade catastrophe — the phenomenon among all students becoming the age of puberty, where they lose interest in science and science subjects — and so we encourage them even more,” Varela said.

The Young Explorers will receive introductory courses in all the same STEM courses the older kids enjoy. Younger students will get a chance to learn basic programing with the robots, basic design with the laser cutter, basic planning and handy coordination with various STEM games, and one-on-one instruction from scientists.

Current fall courses include LabRats Robotics, a Tuesday class where students will learn mechanical and electrical engineering as well as coding and visual programming; The Life of Plants, held on Wednesdays, where students will discover how plants survive, grow and interact with their environment; Forensic Crime Labs, on Thursdays, where students will use techniques employed by real Crime Scene Investigation experts to analyze a crime scene and collect evidence; Builder Buddies, held on Fridays, in which students will work together to engineer and design the best bridge prototypes; and Family Science Day, on Saturdays, which offers two courses that parents, guardians or other adult family members — along with their students — can enjoy and explore STEM projects together or solo.

Varela said students and parents are welcome to come and check out the courses and pay at the door. He said there is capacity for 70 students a day.

“We guarantee if you come look your young one won’t want to leave,” he said.

To register students for the four-week courses, visit