RACINE — With shovels and clipboards in hand on a hot summer morning, students participating in the Center for Developing Excellence STEM Academy, kept calling out “I found something!”

Roughly 20 students were getting an up-close feeling for what it’s really like to be part of an archaeological dig at Racine’s North Beach.

“I always wanted to be an archeologist,” said James Flellner, a 10-year-old student at St. Lucy’s School. “When I found out there was something called archeology where you can dig and find dinosaur bones and find out more about their species, I knew that had to be for me.”

The STEM Academy is run out of The Prairie School but is open to students in all of southeastern Wisconsin.

“They’ll try to piece the culture together by the artifacts that they find,” said Larry Jozwik, a retired teacher who organized the class. “The kids actually experience what an archeologist does in the field.”

Buried ‘cultures’

Before any shovels were put into the sand, teachers were up early burying different artifacts assigned to four “cultures.” The students would be charged with discovering which culture they found.

Jozwik said they buried different “culture universals” that would identify the group’s religion, politics, family and social structure. He added the students would have to measure and mark where exactly they found each artifact at their dig site.

“We actually made some interesting relationships between where they find these artifacts and the measurements,” Joswik said. “They might find the family and kin right next to a religious artifact.”

Each of the sites had a different culture such as Egyptian, Native American or Mayan. There was also one site that had a sci-fi element.

“One of the cultures is actually a spacecraft that has landed on the planet,” Joswik said. “They’re digging up the remains of this crashed spacecraft but they’ll also find some ancient culture, too, because the aliens were actually studying the culture.”

But none of the students knew what kind of culture they were uncovering as they were excavating.

“It could be old things like Mayan or Egyptian,” said Wyatt Knoell, a 12-year-old Prairie School student. “We found something that looks like an Egyptian piece and right now it looks like we found a snowshoe.”

‘Rosetta stone’

Joswik said each site had a “Rosetta stone” which the students had to decode.

“Once they decipher that, they can actually determine more about the culture because a lot of the artifacts have writing on them,” Joswik said. When all the artifacts are discovered, they’ll take them back to school to be cleaned and studied more, he said. “They’ll make a presentation to the class trying to describe what the culture is all about.”

Anisa Diaz, teacher at Starbuck Middle School, has been participating in the STEM Academy the last four years and said this kind of learning should be something more parents and districts should look into.

“Giving kids the opportunity, a hands-on experience to different kinds of STEM jobs is a lot better and more engaging than theory,” Diaz said. “I would encourage more parents to put their children into more STEM activities in the summer.”



Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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