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Edutainment: Dig It! The Fossil Workshop offers children hands-on lessons at Westfield Valencia Town

Posted: October 23, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2011 1:30 a.m.

California Virtual Academy students, from left, Emily Pro, 10, her twin brother, Ethan, and sister Bethany Pro, 4, dig in the sand for rocks and fossils with Nyomi Smith, 3, and Ruby Walker, 5, at Dig It!

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Ask her for mundane details about the business side of her company, and owner Jackie Drecksel gets quiet.

Ask her about the geological explorations at “Dig It! The Fossil Workshop,” and Drecksel becomes animated with a passion for historical digs.

A part-time Santa Clarita resident and a part-time Utah resident, Drecksel opened her first retail store in the Westfield Valencia Town Center in November 2010.

Today, Drecksel is in negotiations to expand her company to five more retail malls throughout the state of California.

The whole love of digging for fossils began with Drecksel’s father. Although an engineer, digging for fossils was her dad’s hobby, and he took his then-4-year old daughter out on his excursions.

Although there were four children in the family, three girls and one boy, it was Drecksel who was bitten by fossil-hunting bug, as she and her father embarked on frequent trips to Topanga Canyon.

“Back then, you could get fossilized sea shells and shark teeth,” Drecksel said.

Nurturing the dream

Studying geology and business at UCLA fed Drecksel’s dreams of one day opening an edutainment business bringing education and entertainment together for children.

“How can you not be surrounded by children and their curiosity,” Drecksel said.

Raising two of her own children, she introduced them to the world of digging for fossils as well as they were growing up with the goal of expanding their curiosity.

The passion led Drecksel to handcraft fossil prep kits from her garage, complete with tools, for schools. Wearing goggles, taking out the tools and chipping limestone away until real fossils were fully exposed delighted the children.

“The prep kits are still our signature product,” she said.

A success in the schools, Drecksel sent her kit out to museums, as well. Some 35 museums across the country sell them today.

But then an aquarium wanted help setting up an interactive exhibit about prehistoric sea creatures in Mystic, Conn. She helped set one up in 2007.  And then came the dream for the retail store.

“I love to teach, love to see the curiosity in children’s minds,” Drecksel said. “I wanted to bring it to every household.”

Growth

Seeing value in the niche business Drecksel was creating, a private investor provided her with a loan to put the state-of-the-art teaching business together and get it launched.

Ten employees, including one manager, work with 2,500 children, on average, per month as they come into Dig It! to dig in red sand imported from Utah as they discover their own fossil finds.

“We simulate the Jurassic period and a sand quarry, bringing in real minerals and fossils from Brazil, Madagascar, China and Europe for the kids to excavate,” Drecksel said.

The sand doesn’t stick to you or create dust, it’s great for all children, but especially kids with asthma, she said.

Dig It! has two different sites in the store, but first, the children receive a lesson in paleontology.

At the Excavation Station, children dig for fossils sea shells, sharks teeth, sea urchins and more.

Prospectors’ Pit is a station where amethyst, citrine, arrowheads, obsidian and quartz are found. Dressed in smocks and goggles, the children learn how old the mineral or gemstone is and prep it.

“Some of the finds from Brazil are 40 million years old,” Drecksel said. “Everything in Dig It! is authentic.”

At the end of their session, children are allowed to select one of their finds to bring home, and before they leave the kids re-bury the other finds they dug up.

“They like to rebury them too,” she said. “They have just as much as fun burying them as digging them up.”
Business-minded

While Drecksel would rather talk about her passion for working with children, she’s very focused when it comes to her business.

She designed the curriculum herself, wrote all the training manuals and trains the employees in paleontology and geology.

Mindful that she’s running a business, Drecksel also trains employees in customer service.

“We’ll bring in a school of 120 kids through here. It has to operate smoothly.”

With a patent pending, trademarks and copyrights in place, Drecksel is now writing a series of children’s books with the first book coming out at the beginning of 2012.

Titled “The Adventures with Professor Dig It,” the first book is about dinosaurs, and Drecksel has already met with Scholastic about picking up her book.

“The book has a female role model (who specializes) in paleontology and geology,” she said. “It also features my father, son and daughter.”

Dig It! is about bringing out the best in children. The experience brings out their curiosity and the store is all about learning, she said.

The store is a destination place for schools, scouts and families and the company has partnered with the L.A. Boys and Girls Scouts of America to help children earn their badges.

Learning via interaction is proven to be the best method of learning, said Drecksel. It’s memorable and the lesson becomes etched in their brains.

“We’re heading in the right direction. We went from an exhibit in an aquarium to our own entity.”

Dig It! The Fossil Workshop is located at the Valencia Town Center on the Patios at 24201 Valencia Blvd., Valencia. More information can be found at (661) 877-4775 or at www.digitfossils.com.

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