Pictured: More than 50 children participated in Immanuel Lutheran Church's recent Vacation Bible School. One activity had the youngsters making seashell candleholders. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

More than 50 children participated

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

The Immanuel Lutheran Church Vacation Bible School experienced a noticeable upswing in attendance this week, to a record high 52 children, and attributes much of that growth to reaching out to other denominations in the community.

The church has had a decrease in recent years in overall youth attendance, as the congregation has grown older.

Karen Zepeda, coordinator of the VBS, said a majority of the students participating this year are from other area churches.

"We thought we'd be OK putting the third, fourth and fifth-grade students together in a group," Zepeda said, looking into a classroom brimming with tables and chairs. "But with 18 students, we had many more than we expected."

This week, students participated in religious classes, arts and crafts, outdoor games and science demonstrations. As this year's theme was "Great Bible Reef," the youth area of the church was decorated with blue sheets over light fixtures and colorful paper fish of various sizes. The main hallway connecting the activity area and the classrooms resembled an undersea tunnel.

Allen Schulte led the Seawater Science area along with his young assistant Garrett, a church youth volunteer.

"You're going to see some really amazing things," Garrett said as he led another group of youngsters up to the demonstration table.

A long-time teacher in Agua Dulce, now retired, Schulte used his lab experience to create a fun learning atmosphere for the students.

Participants had the opportunity to watch a Cartesian diver at work, created crystals using sodium, witnessed several volcanic chemical reactions and witnessed the creation of a miniature, silver Christmas tree, using a silver nitrate chemical reaction.

Students also designed their own sea shell clay candle holders in the corral crafts section.

Julie Myers, a second-grade student, busily worked with the white mushy clay to create a little bowl shape, which she decorated with tiny shells and colored sand. This was Julie's first year at the Immanuel Lutheran VBS, but she is a veteran of other Bible schools in the area over the last few summers. She said her experience tells her that this was one of the best.

"I really liked the seawater science class, because you learn a lot about science. They used dry ice once and it made things slosh and foam everywhere," Julie said.

Zepeda said the purpose of the school was to have a place where the children could not only hear God's word, but also learn and have fun at the same time.

"The focus is just to spread the word of God to the community as a whole," Zepeda said.

During an alternate version of the game "Duck, duck, goose" called "fish, fish, shark," first-grade student Megan Calvez said she has been to three vacation Bible schools.

She said God is very important in her life, and that He was the reason she was there.

"We learn a lot about God," Megan said. "I also have a lot of fun. Bunches of fun."