Diversity in the Schoolyard

Network News Fall 2005, Vol. 18 No. 2

LTER Changing the face of science (one smile at a time)...

In its unique position as a liaison between scientists, teachers and students, the Schoolyard LTER program is reaching many traditionally underserved schools. Now in its fifth year, SLTER scientists and their associates are realizing their potential to reach well beyond laboratories and research sites to involve their local communities in the science happening in their own backyards. For some sites, local demography provides the ideal opportunity to interact with Hispanic, African-American, Native, and Asian American children.

Stephanie Bestelmeyer, director of the Jornada Basin LTER schoolyard program in southern New Mexico, works with eight schools that have an average of 85 percent Hispanic students.

"[Our] teachers report that it increases their own comfort level with science and increases the likelihood that they will teach science using inquiry practices in the future," Stephanie says. Preliminary test results show that program participants excel in science. "We are still getting data from all of the schools," she says, "However, we are really proud of these early results."

At the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER site, ‘SuperKidsGrow’ is a unique after-school program targeted to minority youth in low-income communities in the city, says Janie Gordon of the "Parks and People Foundation," a key member of the BES Schoolyard team. The program integrates urban ecology with homework, character development, and improved literacy skills, Janie says.

At the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER site,

"Many of us do make choices to work with schools whose student populations are dominated by underrepresented groups," says Monica Elser, director of the Schoolyard program at CAP. "Students are demonstrating skills with the scientific method, explaining local scientific processes, learning about biodiversity and research technology, as well as presenting and defending their results," Elser says.

Elena Sparrow of the Bonanza Creek LTER site in Alaska partners with the GLOBE program (http://www.globe.gov/) in schools where the student population is mostly if not all Alaska Natives, she says. Susan Daly at Florida Coastal Everglades LTER says her Schoolyard constituency is greater than 80 percent underserved minorities.

Other sites must reach further to bring the experience home for minority children. But special funding helps. NSF’s Education and the Environment Venture (EdEn) fund "very much emphasizes targeting underserved groups," says Pam Snow, Harvard Forest LTER. With EdEn funding, Snow reaches schools with higher numbers of underrepresented groups. "This year we have a teacher participating in our professional development program who works with Spanish speaking students, primarily."

For the Santa Barbara Coastal and Moorea Coral Reef LTER sites, Ali Whitmer works with 60 middle and high school students from inner city Los Angeles, a program made possible by a combination of funds from SBC Schoolyard LTER, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Natural Reserves, and UCSB campus outreach initiatives.

While abundant, many of these success stories are precarious, and participants agree that the work they do requires dedicated funding. Liz Duff of Plum Island Ecosystem LTER was depending on the EdEn Venture funding to target several urban school districts with high levels of minority students.

"I am not sure what I will do now that we no longer have the EdEn funding," Duff says. "We have pieced together some smaller grants that will allow us to provide support for the fall only. But I have lost my support staff and I have no funding for working with [inner city schools] in East Boston."

It is often necessary for Schoolyard programs to cobble together funding. The Shortgrass Steppe (SGS) LTER combines their efforts with the University of Northern Colorado to host many diverse education efforts, reports John Moore, a key liaison between the Schoolyard program and SGS science. John finds support through the U.S. Department of Education and through several NSF programs such as Research Assistance for Minority High School Students, Research Experience for Teachers, and GK-12. The SGS-LTER’s Native American Environmental Education and Outreach program is funded via EdEn.

Like LTER science, education requires a durable commitment.

"The critical issue is building a long-term relationship with the schools," says Bruce Hayden, one of the founders of the Schoolyard LTER program. "They need to know that the scientists will return year after year. If so, the teachers can think of their work as an investment that will continue to pay dividends." One of the key hubs of this partnership is the NSF, which "has to continue to value the idea -- and the allocation of money -- to keep it alive," Hayden says.

Ali, John, and Monica are representing education in the ongoing LTER planning process, which has identified enhancing diversity as a primary goal in its education and outreach programs. Issues of diversity also will be the focus of a meeting of the Education, Outreach and Training committee this October.

For more information, please see http://www.lternet.edu/planning/