Sixth-grade girls at Schenectady’s three middle schools will have a chance in the spring to spend a day doing science and engineering, thanks to the newest round of Schenectady Education Foundation grants.
The girls will spend one of three Saturdays at miSci, working through the museum’s space simulation, visiting the planetarium and hearing from an Albany doctor who has conducted research for NASA. The program, organized by middle school librarians Kristina Graves and Michael Sheridan, will be made possible by a $5,000 grant from the Education Foundation, which originated from a General Electric donation.
“These field trips are critical in helping students absorb what is taught in the classroom, stuff that they don’t relate to until they have experienced it in their lives,” said Graves, a Mont Pleasant Middle School librarian.
By focusing the program on sixth-grade girls, the program’s organizers are hoping to break through barriers that too often turn girls off from pursuing careers in science, technology and engineering — fields long dominated by men.
In middle school, students start to sort out who they are and the kinds of academic interests that might drive them through the rest of their school careers. Graves and Sheridan hope the miSci visit will help reinforce to the girls that they are just as capable of pursuing studies and careers in the sciences and possibly spark interest for girls who haven’t connected to that material in the classroom setting.
“Middle school is where their interests really start, where kids start finding themselves,” said Sheridan, a librarian at Oneida Middle School. “There still exists this dynamic of traditional gender roles, this idea that [science] wasn’t the historical place for women. . . . For every one Marie Curie, there are 100 men.”
Sheridan and Graves are working on another grant that will support a field trip to Hudson Valley Community College for eighth-graders. The trip will serve as an opportunity to expose students to life on a college campus and introduce them to the different steps that go into selecting and applying to college, choosing a major and living on a campus.
Graves said the field trips also help teachers find new ways of connecting the trips to the lessons they teach in school. Anticipating the college visit, for example, Graves created a scavenger hunt to introduce eighth-graders to the different elements of a college website — a place they will hopefully be spending time during their high school years.
Filling the gap
More than two dozen Schenectady teachers received over $26,000 combined in grants from the Schenectady Education Foundation earlier this fall. The grants, awarded to 28 teachers or teacher teams at 12 schools, will support programs ranging from new equipment and a field trip for forensic science class to an effort to supply books for first-graders to continue reading through the summer.
“Our purpose is to fill the gap [for] teachers, the things teachers want to use to enrich students’ lives, enrich student learning experiences and yet the district doesn’t have the money to fund,” said Bill Schultz, the president of the foundation. “We let the teachers drive what that is.”
The foundation has been giving out the annual grants, which range from as little as $200 to as much as $5,000, since 2006. Since the start of the program, the foundation has given teachers nearly 240 grants worth a combined $186,000, Schultz said.
“We have funded classroom libraries, we’ve done lots of social studies programs, we do author visits, field trips,” Schultz said, listing the types of things that have been supported in the past decade.
In the spring, the foundation plans to expand its grant program, which accounts for nearly all of its expenses, to include opportunities for students to apply for and win grants of their own. Those students will apply with the support of a teacher mentor; the grants will fund programs that foster public service or student-driven education programs.