PUBLISHED: 5:09 PM on Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Dzantik'i Heeni eighth-graders star in upcoming episode of Dragonfly TV
Glacier girls

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Brittani Baxter, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, along with friend Debbie Boyer, not pictured, are hosts of a 2007 program focusing on glaciers.
Two Juneau girls are the stars of an Alaska-centric episode of PBS' DragonflyTV airing next spring.

DragonflyTV is an award-winning children's science show that follows "real kids doing real science." Critics call the program a mix of MTV and the Discovery Channel. It's written for middle schoolers and aims to interest children in science by sparking their curiosity in the natural world around them.

Each week, youth hosts explore a new science challenge. Debbie Boyer and Brittani Baxter are 13-year-old eighth-graders at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School and the hosts of a 2007 program focusing on glaciers.

Other episodes have highlighted mysterious bog people in Pittsburgh, how to build an evaporative cooler in Phoenix and microfossils around Fort Worth, Texas.

Producers and a film crew from of the national program were in Juneau in late July and early August shooting footage. DragonFlyTV senior producer Gary Leatherman said about 65 Juneau middle schoolers expressed interest in being on the program. A casting call was held at University of Alaska Southeast.

Debbie Boyer tried out and answered questions about what she likes to do in Juneau.

"I said I like to do outside things because there's not many things to do indoors. Me and my friends go on adventures in the forest or go to the beach and explore," she said.

Boyer was invited back for a second audition and asked to bring a friend. Leatherman explains that producers like to choose good friends as co-hosts. That way, they naturally have fun together and it comes across to viewers. Boyer chose best friend, Brittani Baxter. As part of her audition, Baxter read a script about badgers and told the audition manager about her favorite Juneau activities: "hiking and kayaking."

Leatherman said the two girls were selected for their adventurous spirit and curiosity. He believes it's a myth that girls aren't interested in science.

"At this age, it's harder for us to find boys for the program, than girls, who are extremely inquisitive," he said.

A camera crew followed Boyer and Baxter for two days. The girls took a helicopter ride to the Northstar camp on top of the Mendenhall glacier where they helped a UAS scientist collect data on how ice is moving and melting. "They filmed everything-us preparing to go to the glacier in the helicopter, putting on snow pants and jackets. Watching the glacier from the air. Then when we got there, they filmed us walking around looking at holes in the glacier and getting into crampons," Baxter said.

Debbie Boyer said they used a global positioning system device to measure glacial change.

"We carried the GPS device around to different holes. The summers in Juneau have been a lot warmer over the last few years, so the glacier is melting more," she said.

Later the DragonflyTV Alaska hosts kayaked from Skater's Cabin to Nugget Falls for a view of the glacier from the water.

"It's amazing up close, you can see ice caves and crevasses. There's nothing like it," said Boyer, who said she's always been interested in medical issues and wants to be a doctor.

If every 13-year-old were as enthusiastic about science as Boyer and Baxter, parents could quit worrying about the mediocre showing that American kids make in science class. Studies have shown somewhere between elementary and middle school, many kids tune out to science. Indeed, eighth-graders nationwide ranked 18th in international comparisons of science achievement, behind students from Canada, Australia and several Asian and European nations, according to an International Mathematics and Science Study, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. When kids lose interest in science, their opportunities for technical careers, which are among the nation's well-paid jobs, vanish.

In addition to Boyer and Baxter, the DragonflyTV crew filmed 10 children at a summer camp at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center as they helped U.S. Forest Service biologists tag salmon and follow the spawning process.

Following its stint in Juneau, the film crew flew to Ketchikan. There they focused on the temperate rain forest around the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center and asked local children to tell them what was great about living in a wet world.