Alexandria City Public Schools Awarded Prestigious Grant for STEM Education and Student Civic Engagement
Alexandria, Va. — Alexandria City Public Schools has received a grant of almost $330,000 to help teachers bring real-world, hands-on science and technology learning into their classrooms.
Through the grant, students in grades six and seven will use STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts to explore local environmental issues such as the health of local streams, which feed into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and impact the plants, animals and people these waterways support; or the impact of light pollution in urban environments on plants and animals. The grant, obtained in partnership with Earth Force, was awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Students will explore topics by collecting data and conducting research to learn about the issues that are impacting their community. They will engage with city officials, government workers, nature center and wastewater treatment facility staff, environmental non-profits and local business and industry to learn more about local issues and then select one to address — and develop critical communication skills in the process. Based on their findings, they’ll design and implement projects that reflect environmental issues they care about and they’ll apply what they learn to real-world situations.
“This grant opens up a world of opportunities to expand the teaching and learning into the community and inspire civic responsibility. It enables our teachers and students to work in and with the community to address critical issues that impact our environment. The STEM skills our students will learn in middle school are skills they’ll need in their higher education or the workplace. And for those who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM, it provides a solid foundation for and bridge to the STEM Academy at T.C. Williams High School,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.
Teachers will have access to training and support where they will learn how to empower students to solve existing issues in their community by working with the community, expanding the learning beyond the classroom. Teachers will also have opportunities to collaborate in adapting their coursework to be in alignment with the new 2018 Virginia Science Standard of Learning.
“NOAA is delighted to fund this project in order to expand the reach of environmental literacy in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and to help Alexandria institutionalize these efforts within their school system,” said Sean Corson, acting director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. “We were impressed by Earth Force and ACPS’s commitment to teacher training and student education, and the innovative methods and partnerships the funding will support.”
ACPS middle school teacher Mary Breslin will mentor teachers throughout the division during the implementation. Breslin, winner of the 2013 White House Council on Environmental Quality and the EPA Presidential Innovation Award, was instrumental in helping to win the award through her use of the Earth Force process in her classroom. She’s been using the process for nearly a decade. Many of Breslin’s students have continued their environmental and civic-minded pursuits into high school, including establishing the local nonprofit, Watershed Warriors.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program grant will be administered over the next three years. ACPS will work to implement the grant in partnership with Earth Force, a national nonprofit organization that engages young people as active citizens to improve the environment and their communities.
Four educators will be trained this school year, 25 educators will be trained in year two and an additional 45 educators, including special education and English language learning teachers and coaches, will be trained in year three. The program is currently being implemented at Jefferson-Houston School and Francis C. Hammond and George Washington middle schools and will be expanded to Patrick Henry K-8 School as additional educators are trained.