Several hundred Lompoc Valley elementary school students got a taste of college Friday morning during a first-of-its-kind field trip event designed to get the students excited about their academic futures.

About 455 fifth- and sixth-graders from four Lompoc Unified School District campuses participated in the “3E Bulldog Bound Experience” at Hancock College’s Lompoc Valley Center. During the two-hour event, the students were separated into 11 groups, and each group toured activity stations that were set up around the campus.

The stations focused on a variety of different topics. At the Public Safety Training Complex, the students participated in drills and learned about safety with the police, fire and EMT academies; they prepared healthy meals and learned about nutrition at the “Healthy Bites” station; and they used chemicals to make a gooey “elephant toothpaste” and a nitrogen cloud at the “Chem-Dogs” chemistry station, among other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities.

“They’ve been totally engaged and I think this is really empowering them to want to learn more and maybe come to Hancock College,” Sarah Castaneda, who teaches sixth grade at Fillmore Elementary School, said of her students.

Instilling that desire to attend college — particularly at Hancock — was one of the primary objectives for the event, which was making its debut at Hancock’s Lompoc campus after a similar event was staged last month at the Santa Maria campus.

The “3E” portion of the event’s name stands for “Elementary, Exploration, Event,” and the “Bulldog Bound” refers to Hancock’s bulldog mascot.

“We are starting the Hancock Promise program, which is 'first year free at AHC,' so we are reaching the fifth- and sixth- graders to start the conversation about going to college,” said Marna Lombardi, a Hancock information officer who coordinated the event.

In addition to Fillmore, participating LUSD schools were Buena Vista, Hapgood and La Cañada elementary.

One of the groups from Fillmore seemed particularly enthusiastic at the “Chem-Dogs” station, where the students got started by watching a demonstration in which several chemicals were mixed together to create about 8 liters of goo that poured out of a small beaker. Due to its appearance, the concoction is often referred to as elephant toothpaste, according to Toby McLaughlin, a science lab assistant at Hancock.

Castaneda poured the final ingredient, a peroxide, to get the gooey brown foam flowing as the Fillmore students looked on in excited anticipation.

“I was kind of nervous,” the teacher said with a laugh. “He said, ‘Pour it quickly and step away,’ so I was kind of nervous — not that nervous, but still nervous. You never know with those chemistry teachers.”

In the nutrition lab, the students used a variety of ingredients to create snacks as they learned about balanced diets.

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“We really want to just give the students a chance to see that healthy food can taste good and be fun to make,” said Christine Bisson, a professor in health science at Hancock.

The students made cracker tiles, in which they took crackers and covered them with healthy toppings, like sunflower seed butter or dried mangoes.

“Some of them got to try foods they’ve never tried,” Bisson said.

Among the other activities was an inflatable planetarium that was presented by the school’s astronomy department, a paper airplane competition, a recreation station, an art project and a geology and engineering lab presented by Aera Energy, a company that is partnering with Hancock for the Hancock Promise program.

“This is about having a positive college experience, and so they will not have the opportunity to say, ‘I can’t go to college because I can’t afford it,’” Lombardi said of the young students.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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