A new after-school program at the City of Franklin Elementary School is working to boost students’ interest in science, math and technology.
The National Council of Negro Women, with the help of a $150,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has launched three pilot programs in the last several months: one in Maryland, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Berkeley.
The group is seeking funds to expand the program, known as the Higher Heights after-school program, to each of the 250 cities nationwide where the NCNW is active.
“With math, science and technology, we feel that we’re on the cutting edge of everything that’s happening,” said James Ella James, California state convener for the NCNW.
At City of Franklin, Higher Heights involves 15 fourth- and fifth-graders who meet for three hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. The program uses an innovative, hands-on curriculum to make subjects like math and chemistry,
typically not the most popular among grade-schoolers, more fun and appealing.
The hope is that the program will lay the groundwork for students to excel in these subjects in high school and college, preparing them for a job market that places a premium on these skills.
“People tend to buy into the stereotypes of, ‘girls aren’t good in math and sciences,’ or ‘black people can’t do the science,’ ” said Tyrrah Young, the Higher Heights teacher at City of Franklin. “If you present it to them at an early age, then by the time they get older it’s easy for them and they don’t shy away from it.”
The program goes out of its way to make students comfortable, instructing whenever possible through the medium of games and experiments.
Students use a balancing scale and numbered cubes to work out Algebra problems, for example, which helps them visualize the algebraic concept that whatever is done to one side of an equation must be done to the other, Young said.
Young tells the story of one student who, when told she would be asked to solve algebraic equations (a subject most students don’t confront until junior high), immediately protested, saying she couldn’t possibly do that. Young said she explained to the student that all she needed to solve algebraic equations – the way they are presented at Higher Heights – is simple addition. But by the end of the day, the student was showing her 3- year -old sister how it is done, Young said.
The program does 15 practical experiments, using household materials, to expose students to the basic concepts of chemistry. Other activities give students a chance to hone their computing skills and critical thinking skills.
Parent Lolita Coleman said her son Marcqus would be bored without the extra activities offered through the Higher Heights program, and the chance to dip into more advanced subject matter than that which is offered in his regular grade level curriculum.
“It gives him a head start to junior high,” Coleman said. “He needs that challenge, so he doesn’t (lose interest).”
Dr. Katheryne Favors, a consultant to the NCNW, said the program is about more than academics. It aims to prepare students to be active members of society and people of integrity, Favors said, in part by exposing students to the stories of certain exceptional people.
“The scientists we want to point out to children (are people) who were willing to spend hours and hours and hours in order to bring about change,” Favors said.