LANL Foundation brings $10 million to northern NM school districts

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In an effort to further science education in New Mexico, the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation is joining the National Science Resource Center of the Smithsonian Institution to bring $10 million to northern New Mexico school districts participating in a validation study of the NSRC’s Leadership and Assistance for Science education and Reform (LASER) model of science instruction. 

“To be asked to partner with the with the Smithsonian Institution in a 5 year longitudinal study evaluating the impact of inquiry science education on our teachers and children is both an honor and a privilege,” Susan Herrera, CEO of the LANL Foundation, said. “The LANL Foundation is dedicated to improving educational opportunities for all children and this grant is a unique opportunity to apply solid research to education,” she added. 

The study will split participating schools into two different phases. Schools in phase 1 will receive training for the first set of science kits in the summer of 2011 while schools in phase 2 will serve as controls and will not begin to implement the science instruction until the 2014-2015 school year. At the same time – for the most part – each phase 1 school will be paired with phase 2 school for comparison over time. 

Eugene Schmidt, superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools, which has 3 elementary schools participating, is enthusiastic about the study. 

“(LAPS) is ecstatic to be part of a national research science grant because that’s what we’re all about,” Schmidt said in a phone interview. “It brings uniformity and consistency into elementary and middle schools...and gives us a chance to be current on what is really going on in science based instruction that is research based,” he added. 

Over the course of its five year span, the study will bring $10 million to 40 participating schools in 11 New Mexico school districts, including Santa Fe, Pecos, Rio Rancho and West Las Vegas. Most of the money from the NSRC will go toward professional development for participating teachers and a $1200 a year stipend for the lead teacher at each school that is in Phase 1 of the study. 

At the same time, the LANL Foundation will contribute $1.5 million to be disbursed by the Smithsonian and the Foundation will also be working to refurbish and redistribute science kits as the years go on. Coming at a time when districts barely have enough money to operate, though the prospect of professional development has participating teachers excited. 

“Literally millions of dollars will come to our elementary schools. It’s a gift for the state, really,” Schmidt said. Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean added that the three principals in Los Alamos will be attending all the professional development this summer – despite short notice – because they value a program that focuses on science that also integrates literacy. 

What is significant about the study is the fact it is both cross-sectional and longitudinal; not only does it encompass students from all walks of life in New Mexico (as well as Texas and North Carolina), but it tracks student progress over the course of five years, allowing for a contextualized and in-depth analysis of science education in New Mexico and throughout the US. Most importantly, the study provides science education. 

“This program is a wonderful opportunity for New Mexico students because it presents them with an alternative method of dealing with science that is engaging, relevant and can open up an avenue towards career pathways,” Janette Archuleta, Regional Coordinator for the Smithsonian study, said. 

 This new opportunity comes on the heels of the implementation of the LANL Foundation’s 2010 Inquiry Science Education Consortium, of which Española, Peñasco, Mesa Vista and Santa Fe school districts are members.