Last year, the students at Mary McLeod Bethune School in North Philadelphia didn’t have a certified science teacher.
Other teachers, in subjects like math and social studies, taught the seventh and eighth graders science from a textbook, but they couldn’t teach labs, an important, hands-on part of the curriculum, said Bethune principal Ary Chavez-Sloane.
But an unexpected partnership with Temple medical students allowed the students to learn how to use stethoscopes and reflex hammers, to build gardens in soda bottles and to study soundwaves through homemade rubber band guitars. It’s an example of one way that underfunded Philadelphia schools are trying to do more with less, in light of a $304 million budget shortfall that had to be balanced with a so-called “doomsday budget.”
The Temple partnership was tremendous, Chavez-Sloane said, in helping students understand what they’re studying from a book.
“All of a sudden, science is alive,” said Chavez-Sloane, who became Bethune’s principal last winter.
The partnership was an idea that grew out of a community tour held by the local chapter of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Temple medical students met the staff of Bethune, located a mere three blocks from Temple’s medical school and were floored when they heard that its students didn’t have a certified science teacher that year, said med student Kathryn Stockbower.
“It resonated with us because we came from a strong science background,” said Stockbower, who’s beginning her second year of medical school.
So the students jumped to work.
In February, about ten students developed a hands-on curriculum for Bethune middle-schoolers, creating lesson plans and worksheets for labs. Twice a week, six students would teach the class.
In order to be resourceful, they built labs around household materials, like shoe boxes and rubber bands. The team of students has since applied to Temple to become an official club so they can get funding for resources.
The Bethune students planted grass and lima beans in soda bottles to create a greenhouse. In one week, the bottles were overflowing with grass, and the students were delighted, Stockbower said.
This year, Bethune has a certified science teacher, but the Temple partnership will continue.
Teaching science to the students is the obvious goal, but principal Chavez-Sloane said that the partnership has also had an unintended benefit: it’s created a sense of community.
Temple is the giant around here, she said.
“It’s the building that’s taking over so many of the houses of my children,” said Chavez-Sloane.
There should be more communication between Temple and the community around them, she believes.
“In a small scale, we’re starting with the medical school,” she said, “but we want it to be bigger.”
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