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Science, Mathematics Mentoring Program for Teachers Expands

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: February 15, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo program that exemplifies the university's commitment to creating a pipeline to public higher education for kindergarten through high school students has expanded from one to two Buffalo schools, thanks to a $485,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation.

The grant continues the work of Joseph A. Gardella, Jr., professor of chemistry, and his team of UB collaborators toward improving the teaching of science and math to Buffalo public school students.

The new funding has allowed the program, originally directed at middle school students, to expand within the Native American Magnet School and to the Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School at Seneca (MST), eventually adding curricula and programs for students in lower and upper grade levels.

Gardella said the grant will strengthen a pilot program that is a part of the strategic partnership between UB and the Buffalo Public Schools in which the university will use its multidisciplinary expertise to improve outcomes for the more than 36,000 students in the city's public schools.

"It shows how serious we are about K-16 outreach by aligning our investments in interdisciplinary research strengths with programs that deal head-on with issues in urban public schools, including the drop in the number of female and minority students who pursue STEM -- science/technology/engineering/mathematics -- careers," Gardella said. "It links our national strengths with regional issues, and focuses on a community issue -- the need to bring excellence and innovation in science programming to the Buffalo Public Schools and provide learning opportunities for all students in the district."

Principal Pamela Rutland calls the UB program "an amazing opportunity" that will "breathe life into the science curriculum" at MST.

"Since taking the position as principal of MST, it has become more apparent with each passing day that the private, public and not-for-profit partners in the City of Good Neighbors care about the education and success of all children," Rutland said. "This is an amazing opportunity for the Buffalo Public Schools, our students and this community, one that will provide all students with equitable access to a quality education, strengthening our city and the county."

The UB program trains experienced public-school teachers in the newest interdisciplinary scientific and engineering research approaches in order to "renew their enthusiasm, deepen their knowledge and build their leadership skills," according to Gardella. Year-round institutes will immerse participants in interdisciplinary research in several areas identified as strengths by the UB 2020 strategic planning process, including integrated nanostructured systems, bioinformatics and health sciences, and molecular recognition in biological systems.

"Our project uses interdisciplinary team-based research programs to help teachers develop classroom materials and after-school programs that align with learning standards and draw from modern, multidisciplinary approaches," Gardella said. "Specifically, Buffalo teachers will have the opportunity to access research through three tracks: nano- and photonic materials science and engineering, tissue engineering and environmental science and engineering."

UB faculty experts in chemistry, physics, engineering, the health sciences and education coordinate and teach the institutes; researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute participate as well. UB graduate and undergraduate students serve as mentors and classroom aides. The project will serve approximately 20 public-school teachers over two years.

The Oishei grant will enable the program to add elementary grades 4-6 at the Native American Magnet School, where it began as a pilot program in the middle-school grades in 2005. UB faculty will continue the middle-school program there, and will translate its curricular materials for use by teachers in the lower grades, as well as develop in-class and after-school programs at those levels.

In expanding the program to MST -- which serves grades 6-12 -- Gardella said his team will "take middle-school curricular reform and move it up to high school."

MST, "the first and only College Board school in Western New York," according to Rutland, offers "cutting-edge technology woven through every grade level.

"Each student is issued his own laptop. Students also take monthly college field trips with the idea that they need to get comfortable on a university campus because this is their destiny. This grant will help widen the depth of learning for our students. They can experience what most students can only read about.  Touching the life of a child can and often does change the life of many generations."

She added that through the UB program, "students will work with classroom teachers, college professors and graduate assistants to breathe life into the science curriculum. Our students will be exposed to rich experiments and learn about exciting new careers that use science as a foundation. They will be asked to dream and work at a level of intensity beyond their imaginations."

Ultimately, the program seeks to connect Buffalo Public Schools teachers with professional learning communities to act as mentors and to promote educational issues, Gardella said.

"We seek to make a powerful impact on changing science education and improving diversity in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Gardella said.

The John R. Oishei Foundation mission is to enhance the quality of life for Buffalo area residents by supporting education, health care, scientific research and the cultural, social, civic and other charitable needs of the community. The foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corp.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.