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Ella Sobhani
Aquascope President Ella Sobhani holds a FoldScope, the $1 sustainable origami microscope utilized in Aquascope’s STEM curriculum. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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Students promote STEM, youth leadership around the world

ENCINITAS — Local students from Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley have created a program providing STEM-based learning curriculums to less advantaged schools around the world, fostering leadership and empowerment among local youth interested in sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Rapidly growing through the height of the summer months and into the fall academic year, the student-run initiative, “Project Aquascope,” originated in Canyon Crest’s after-school Envision Conservatory humanities program and is run by six local students and over 20 student volunteers world-wide.

Aquascope is currently creating a STEM curriculum for schools in Belize and beyond, assisting teachers in brining sustainable agricultural systems — aquaponics, distance learning curriculum — into classrooms.

Ella Sobhani, a senior at Canyon Crest and president of Aquascope’s president, explained the group’s three main pillars- environmental sustainability, greater accessibility to STEM education and youth empowerment.

With the onset of COVID-19, the group’s initial plans to travel abroad visiting participating schools were canceled. However, according to Sobhani, this created an opportunity to offer summertime virtual events to students abroad.

The virtual speaker series encouraged students to take leadership roles, creating an educational curriculum for their communities including full lesson plans as well as professional-grade infographics created by the student volunteers, themselves.

To date, Aquascope students have voluntarily produced over 70 original labs, activities and downloadable lesson plans, reaching over 450 students from 18 countries across the world, including Liberia, Kenya, India, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Panama and Belize, amongst others.

Ella Sobhani is the president of Aquascope, a program created and run by students at Canyon Crest Academy with the goal of spreading STEM curriculum and youth empowerment to schools around the world. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

“The most important part of our curriculum is its emphasis on problem-solving: we connect each of the earth’s cycles to human impact to foster change and perspective of students towards the environment,” states Aquascope’s website.

Sobhani also stressed the group’s goal of instilling confidence in its own volunteers, not just the creation of a sustainability curriculum.

“We want to get everyone excited about the content but also apply these principles to their real lives and make a difference in their communities,” Sobhani said. “It’s helped us become more confident people. We’re excited about our future and making a contribution to our communities.”

Timothy Stiven, the faculty advisor for Project Aquascope and coordinator for the Envision Conservatory in the Humanities Program at Canyon Crest, described the evolution of the project and the motivated students driving it.

“These kids are willing to take risks and expand themselves, not just seeing themselves as students with an assignment,” Stiven said. “This is something they’re so passionate about that it gives them real meaning. Their summer speaker series connected kids in other nations who were interested in literally the same type of thing they were, doing something positive in this world and making it happen.”

According to Stiven, the project is currently run on volunteerism and donations, however, with a growing number of interested students, there is room for growth and to bring the STEM curriculum to middle schools in Encinitas and expand the volunteer opportunities to other students in after school programs.

Aquascope serves those involved and aware of the project, a dose of hope in an increasingly divisive and isolated world, according to Stiven.

Currently, the group is developing a Sustainable System Series, which can be viewed in full here, in addition to a complete distance-learning science curriculum for the rural Indian Church Village in Belize. Those wishing to volunteer can reach out on the official website.

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