Orleans Elementary School teams up with NASA

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(Host) Researchers say a weak spot in elementary education is often the teaching of science, math and technology.

But what if NASA offers some expertise?

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, teachers at a small Northeast Kingdom school are about to find out how the space agency can help promote the sciences.

(Sneyd) NASA has designated the Orleans Elementary School as one of its "Explorer Schools.”

For the next three years, scientists and engineers from the space agency’s various laboratories will be working with students and teachers.

The goal is to inspire children and encourage their interest in science, technology, mathematics and engineering.

The Orleans school is one of only 25 from around the country to win the support. Only one other school in Vermont has ever been an Explorer School. That’s the North Country Junior High School in Newport.

Sherry Lussier is the assistant principal at the Orleans school.

She says the partnership with NASA is especially important to a rural school like hers.

(Lussier) “We have a population that doesn’t get to see the outside world a lot. We’re pretty secluded up here in the Northeast Kingdom. Our students sometimes have the opinion that this is where they’re going to live their whole lives. And we want them to learn about everywhere and then decide where they want to spend their lives and what they want to spend their lives doing.”

(Sneyd) The Orleans school has 130 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. They come from Orleans, Westmore and Brownington.

Education experts say a big part of the value from the NASA program is how it inspires teachers, as well as students.

Regina Toolin is an assistant professor of science education at UVM.

(Toolin) “From a teaching point of view, I think it is difficult in terms of teachers and their preparedness to actually teach science, in particular, but probably a combination of math, science and technology. It’s not usually the strength of elementary school teachers when they embark upon elementary education.”

(Sneyd) The NASA program includes professional development programs for teachers as well as some curriculum suggestions.

David White is a former science teacher who now is an administrator in the state Department of Education. He says the NASA program will be important for teachers.

(White) “I think one of the things that the Explorer program really brings to states, particularly small states like Vermont, is the opportunity to have a really robust professional development program around the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

(Sneyd) The Orleans school itself will get money to buy technology. And there will be opportunities for distance learning, where NASA scientists and engineers conduct a class from their laboratories while the students sit in their Northeast Kingdom classrooms.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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