October 2, 2000
Volume 53, No.6
Science ed program still going strong
By Eric Rangus
The federal money is gone, but ESEP lives on.
The Elementary Science Education Partners (ESEP) program is one of the most innovative education programs to come along in a long while. Not only does it train elementary school teachers in science education, but it also places college students in classrooms as partners in the development of the younger students.
The program began as a one-year pilot project in 1994, then received a $5.7 million grant in 1995 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). That grant expired Aug. 31, but additional money from the provost's fund was provided to keep ESEP afloat through the 2000-01 academic year.
With an eye on the future, Robert DeHaan, Candler Professor of Cell Biology and ESEP director, and Molly Weinberg, a science education professor at Georgia State, have just completed and submitted a grant proposal to NSF asking for five more years of funding for ESEP-II.
Since the previous NSF grant is non-renewable for Atlanta City Schools-ESEP's current partner. "We have used these first five years as a developmental program and pilot study to build a model that can be disseminated to other school systems," DeHaan said.
The program began with 15 pilot schools and has since expanded to all 69 elementary schools in the Atlanta City School System. In 1998, it received national recognition and was cited by the National Academy of Sciences as an "exemplary teacher enhancement project." Now, the hope is to expand it even further to a neighboring district.
Therefore, ESEP-II, for which the $5.5 million grant proposal has just been completed, will be implemented in Fulton County schools. The curriculum will no longer deal strictly with science education, but will teach reading skills, as well.
"There's a great deal of need for teachers to understand that not only can children learn science through science lessons, but they can also learn to read through science," DeHaan said.
When reading is taught in elementary schools, DeHaan said, the focus is on fiction. However, when faced with more technical material, students are not prepared since that material requires different skills. "The best way for kids to learn to read for information is to expose them to science," he said.
The ESEP-II administration will be slightly different as well. DeHaan will step in as co-primary investigator, along with Vernon Allgood, director of student affairs for the Morehouse School of Medicine. Weinberg will be the primary investigator.
Cooperation is nothing new to the ESEP program as students from Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and the Atlanta University Center have participated throughout and serve as partners.
And for Emory students, becoming a partner in the program is quite simple. "The only requirements are to love science and to love kids," said Camille Goebel, ESEP assistant director. "There are just the minimum academic requirements and a certain background in science. Most [students] are science majors, but we have pre-med, public health and many others."
A total of 51 Emory students are taking part this semester, and the program has averaged about 100 per year throughout its history. Thousands of students have taken part across ESEP's partners.
Participants can be from any major; they must have at least a 2.5 grade-point average and have made at least a C in three college-level science courses. Each ESEP participant receives two science credits.
"As a product of the Atlanta Public School system myself, I am well aware of the lack of resources the children have in their classrooms," said Fatima Cody, who graduated last year. "The ESEP program is able to mobilize [college] students to go into the classroom and equip school [children] with the desire to do inquiry-based science."
The program did not deal with students exclusively-it also trained more than 1,700 Atlanta City School teachers in using a scientific, kit-based curriculum as a teaching tool. Teachers learned how to make science education more interactive and to encourage elementary school
"When I first walked into the classroom at Ralph McGill Elementary, I knew I would have to work hard," said Ravi Patel, who participated in ESEP as a senior last year. "As time went on, the greeting by the students changed from noisy rowdiness to a welcoming and attentive, 'Hi, Mr. Ravi.' That feeling, of knowing that you have the trust and opened the minds of these young kids, is unparalleled."
Not only is DeHaan applying for government funding, but he also is seeking private funding, which he said would be an ideal place for companies to contribute.
"There are aspects of this program that are perfect for high-tech companies to want to support," DeHaan said.