Duke Energy Foundation $40,000 Grant Supports STEM Instruction
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Public School Foundation are pleased to announce a $40,000 grant from Duke Energy Foundation. The funds will go toward the development and teacher training for an Inquiry and Nature-Based STEM Program to serve elementary school students in grades 3-5, beginning with a pilot at Northside Elementary School.
The grant was submitted by Dan Schnitzer, CHCCS Sustainability Director, in collaboration with a team from the CHCCS Instructional Services Department, in order to raise both the level of rigor and engagement in science instruction. The Institute for the Environment at UNC will design the training and curriculum in collaboration with CHCCS teachers, ensuring that the content is aligned with College and Career Readiness standards.
“The vision for delivering this nature-based STEM instruction capitalizes on the natural curiosity of children, combined with their immediate environment,” said Schnitzer. “Above all, the inquiry-based approach will be more successful in engaging all students in STEM. The anticipated result is deeper student interest and excitement in STEM education and the environment, leading to increased proficiency in mastering 3rd-5th grade science concepts and a closer relationship with their environment.”
The measurable goal of the Inquiry and Nature-Based STEM Program is to reduce non-proficiency on the Grade 5 Science Test by half over a period of five years. Dr. Elaine Watson-Grant, Director of Elementary Education, explained how the approach of this new program will better reach every student. “One key factor in meeting the needs of all students, and in particular, students from traditionally underserved groups, is participation in immersive, interdisciplinary learning experiences that build their background knowledge, develop and deepen their interests, and connect them to life outside of school. An inquiry-based approach will lead to greater student engagement, understanding and transfer of knowledge.”
“We are proud to partner with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Public School Foundation to expand access to STEM programming for students and educators,” said Indira Everett, Duke Energy district manager. “Programs that foster a growing interest in STEM fields help our communities continue to grow and produce skilled workers who bring new thinking and ideas to the table.”
With an overarching goal of decreasing the achievement gap in the district, the program designers noted that there are statistically significant gains in achievement on challenging tasks among students who were taught with inquiry-based practices. Research on culturally relevant teaching practices supports the premise that hands-¬on, real-world learning activities are particularly critical for the achievement of students of color as well as students from economically disadvantaged households.
“We are grateful to Duke Energy Foundation for recognizing this need in our district and supporting our students with increased opportunities for STEM-based learning,” said Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent of CHCCS. “We look forward to the enthusiasm and energy for science that will develop from this grant.”