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Younkins recognized by Prudential as one of two top volunteers in state

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Westview High School senior Chris Younkins helps Giselle Miranda and Trung Pham combine ingredients to make a rubber ball in his Science Stars program at McKay Elementary School.The Beaverton School District’s Board of Directors recognized Westview High School senior Christopher Younkins on Monday night as one of Oregon’s top two youth volunteers of 2014 through the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Younkins was honored at the board’s monthly business meeting for creating “Science Stars,” a weekly after-school science enrichment program for children at six elementary schools. The program is designed to develop basic science-inquiry skills to help children be successful in high school.

As a state honoree, Younkins received a medallion as well as $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., for national recognition events. Ten of the state honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014.

Conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Spirit of Community is a recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. All middle and high schools in the U.S., along with Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Spirit of Community Award in November 2013. Two state honorees, one middle and one high school student, plus a select number of distinguished finalists from each state and the District of Columbia, were selected based on personal initiative, effort impact and personal growth.

With help from volunteer high school students and cooperation from elementary school teachers and administrators, Younkins, 18, provides engaging, supplemental science lessons each week to as many as 21 students at a time in six elementary schools in the Beaverton district. The schools, many of them catering to students from lower-income families under the Title I-A designation, include McKay, Findley, Rock Creek, Sexton Mountain, McKinley and Kinnaman.

Younkins, a Rock Creek resident, first nurtured his extracurricular science habit by tutoring fifth-graders at Rock Creek Elementary School when he was a Westview sophomore. Noticing the after-school daycare center there on his way in and out of the building, the scientifically oriented teen wondered if even younger students might benefit from fun, hands-on science lessons.

“I just contacted schools all around the district,” he said after giving a lesson at McKay Elementary School in January. “I figured not many would respond, but one in every two schools responded. A lot of them already had after-school stuff.”

Armed with reassurance and inspiration from YouTube and other online sources, Younkins started developing engaging approaches to beginning science instruction.

“I’d come up with a scientific experiment to get the kids to enjoy science,” he said. “I feel like a lot of kids don’t like it, and I think that’s kind of a shame.”

Younkins anticipates Science Stars carrying on well past his graduation from Westview this spring.

“I’m here for the rest of the school year,” he said, noting his own future plans remain in a fluid state. “Next year, when I’m off to college or whatever, I’ll probably have the volunteers I’m working with, who are sophomores and juniors. I’ll kind of pass it off to them.”

For more information on the Spirit of Community Awards, visit spirit.prudential.com.

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