The heart of the matter is learning

Oak View Elementary School students learned a thing or two about hearts, just in time for Valentine's Day.

They sliced and diced sheep hearts Thursday as part of an after-school academic program.

"We're going to dissect sheep hearts so we can learn about the chambers of the heart," said 10-year-old Jesus Medina, who was sporting clear goggles and a plastic apron.

The students were put into groups of about four, with a high school student helping each group. They were all required to wear goggles, plastic aprons and latex gloves and were warned not to touch their face or clothes.

Before they began dissecting the organ, students watched a video about the heart's chambers, anticipating cutting their sheep hearts open to see what was inside.

The project was put on by El Viento Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on academic support and enrichment programs year round.

Each year, about 25 Oak View students are inducted into El Viento, said Executive Director Zayda Garcia. The students stay in the program throughout high school, and because the foundation gives students scholarships, some remain in it through their early college years, she said.

This year, the foundation created STEM to focus on science, technology, engineering and math because many American classrooms are lagging in these subjects, Garcia said.

The program began this academic year, and the same fifth-graders had the chance to dissect a small pig.

STEM meets the state's standards and allows the students to explore these fields firsthand rather than just reading about them, Garcia said.

"This is a way for them not to be restricted, but this is a way for them to enhance their learning in their own way," she said.

"My vision is these kids become so interested in this and say, 'Hey, I can do this. I can be a doctor,'" said Oak View fifth-grade teacher and STEM creator Jesse Rothman.

With latex gloves in hands and goggles covering most of his face, Antonio Balbuena, 11, looked down at the sheep's heart, then looked up and said he would like to become a surgeon one day.

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