Last Saturday morning, our daughter, Lena, was looking every bit the pre-teen fashion plate: a green and blue tartan shirt over a pair of grey leggings; a mod pair of glasses perched on her nose, her long golden hair pulled tight into a ponytail at the back of her head. Incongruously, one of her latex-gloved hands was wielding a razor sharp scalpel, poised ready to reveal the inner anatomy of the perch lying on the desk in front of her. Welcome to ABC Ottawa Take-Off, an organization devoted to advocating for the needs of bright and gifted children, including providing a range of extra-curricular classes on a diverse range of subjects in the arts, sciences and engineering fields.
This is Lena's second experience with the ABC program. A few years ago, she signed up for a music appreciation course and an art and poetry course. This year, she decided she really wanted to take "Discovery through Dissection". Over the five weeks that the class runs, the seven or eight children in the class will dissect an earthworm, a fish (the perch mentioned above), a frog, a fetal pig, and a group project on the last day - a shark! I was a little surprised that our little girl, who runs screaming at the sight of a little spider, could be so enthusiastic about slicing open little dead animals, but there you go.
Her reasoning for doing the class was twofold: she has a genuine interest in biology in general and animal biology in particular, and she, at least for now, aspires to be a veterinarian and figures this would be an opportunity to test her tolerance for the icky-squishyness she may need to pursue that profession. So far so good - she has enjoyed the earthworm and perch dissection, though while working on the perch, one of the instructors noticed her fish had a much larger stomach than the other specimens. So, everyone gathered around as Lena cut into the distended sac and two smaller, partially digested fish oozed out. She had no problem excising all the various fish organs, but this, for some reason, freaked her out a bit. She is also concerned about the fetal pig - apparently eviscerating cute animals may require steelier stuff. We'll see how it goes.
The classes offered by ABC are really quite varied and challenging. Topics include fiction writing, a variety of crafts, juggling, model rocketry, forensics, chess, programming MineCraft plug-ins and guitar to name but a few. Don't be put off by the "bright and gifted" labels - all comers are welcome. The classes tend to be fairly small in size and are taught by very enthusiastic volunteers. Be warned, though, that many of the offerings are very popular and to have a decent chance of registering for the course your kids want you have to arrive early - VERY early - on the evening of registration at a local community centre. Lena and I went two and half hours early and we were the 16th in line. We had no trouble getting the course she wanted, but as soon as we stepped into the line to pay, they already announced that the MineCraft plug-in class was full.
The courses are given at St. Paul's Catholic High School in Ottawa's west end, conveniently located a couple of blocks from Lee Valley Tools and the Pinecrest shopping centre for parents who are looking for something to do for the hour and a half their kids are engaging in pretty cool stuff. While the fall courses are already underway, there are usually offerings in the new year as well.