Mary Patterson headshot

Mary Patterson is an instructor for the Kansas City Kansas Community College Saturday Academy, a teen program partially funded by the ARISE project.

For Mary Patterson, Kool-Aid is more than a colorful thirst quencher. It’s one of many lab tools she used this year at the Saturday Academy to inspire Kansas City teens to learn about data science.

Hosted at the Kansas City Kansas Community College, this K-12 program has a long history of enriching the lives of urban youth in Wyandotte County. It offers a host of learning opportunities every other Saturday from October to May along with a nourishing breakfast and lunch.

Mary teaches the students data analysis skills with funding from ARISE. Last November, she shared photos of students engaged her curriculum. Here’s an update from her about the students’ findings since then.


2 girls sitting on grass taking a soil sample

What's in your soil?

During the first semester, students made a digital map of the KCKCC College campus. They sampled different areas of soil, testing for moisture, pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content. Since the campus was originally an orchard they found the nitrogen content was quite low!

4 teens doing a lab experiment

Messy but worth it!

In the second semester different soil samples from areas around Wyandotte County were mapped and tested for pH and Lead.

Students learned about groundwater and tested which color of Kool-Aid would bind to soil.  A spectrophotometer was used to determine the amount of color taken up by the soil. Students then learned how to use a T test method to see if purple Kool-Aid bound to the soil.

Students learned that a compound that binds to soil rarely makes it to the groundwater.

Mary said, “It was messy, messy, and took us forever to set up and clean up, but, well worth it!!”

4 teens doing a lab experiment

Guarding our ground water

A model of ground water was constructed and students learned about different bioremediation techniques. They also related what they learned about soil contamination to the 2023 Keystone Pipeline oil spill in Washington County, Kansas, that released 500,000 gallons of crude oil onto Kansas farmland and a nearby stream. 

Student doing an experiment on soil

Enriching the lives of youth

KCKCC co-leads the Saturday Academy with partners from the University of Kansas Medical Center and the USD 500 School District. Roughly 100 teenagers participated in the academy this year.