Letter: Gloucester students, VIMS scientists: a winning combination
As the Class of 2014 took the stage in celebration of the completion of their high school career, they share something special with many of our students here in Gloucester County. In addition to this milestone, those students also have the distinction of being the first cohort of Gloucester County Public School students who benefited from the National Science Foundation’s GK12 Partnership between Educators and Researchers for Enhancing Classroom Teaching (PERFECT) program during their seventh grade year.
The NSF GK12 PERFECT program is a partnership with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Teachers are partnered with graduate Fellows to help them adapt their research and science lessons for the classroom audience. Through interactions with our classroom students, the graduate Fellows improve their science communications skills and the students get a rich palette of STEM-based instruction with an emphasis on marine science.
For the five years of the VIMS GK12 project, over 1,500 Gloucester County students have benefited from the access to engaging materials and the expertise of our GK12 Fellows. Each Fellow’s research brings real world experiences with cutting-edge science into the classroom to reinforce the curriculum concepts. As a result, our students are more engaged in science. Our students have a better understanding of the scientific method, all the steps of experimental design, and the use of spreadsheets to display and analyze data that are necessary for research.
The increased emphasis on labs and hands-on activities in the classroom, and the real world experiential field studies emphasized by our Fellows, translated into common assessment scores that were consistently higher than the previous years’. Students made measureable gains due to their interactions with the scientists.
Our Fellows have been able to present their research in incremental steps and on a regular basis in our classrooms, as each scientist spends roughly 10 hours per week in front of students—thus building relationships and rapport with our students. This far surpasses the impact of a one-time visits. Student interaction with scientists as genuine, enthusiastic, and personable as our Fellows helps dispel the stereotypes of scientists as nerd or one-dimensional personalities. Additionally, our students have a much better understanding of what the scientific process is like for scientists in the world outside the classroom. More students ask questions about marine science and consider science as a career option.
Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the NSF stopped funding GK12 programs in 2012. The VIMS GK12 PERFECT program was able to complete the remaining time that had already been funding. This academic year draws to a close this incredible experience for Gloucester County students.
It is with great pride and anticipation that we watch the Class of 2014 continue down life’s path. But, there is no doubt that the GK12 program and those remarkable scientists have had a positive impact on each of them. Only time will reveal how much students profited from the program and how much GCPS lost when the program was cancelled.